Thomas Jefferson

High School | Home of the Spartans

You’re an All Star

Posted 09/12/2023 by Akaash Raghunath

As lead vocalist, Steve Harwell is featured prominently in the music video for Smash Mouth’s 1999 hit “All Star." photo courtesy of Smash Mouth

Steve Harwell, legendary lead vocalist of 90’s band Smash Mouth, passed away at 56.

Despite initially forming in San Jose in 1994, Smash Mouth didn’t truly reach the mainstream until 2001 and the release of the first Shrek movie. This film featured Smash Mouth’s hit track “All Star” in its opening scene, which served to once again place the band into the limelight nearly seven years after its initial union.

Smash Mouth was originally created by a group of four men: guitarist Greg Camp, drummer Kevin Coleman, bassist Paul De Lisle, and lead vocalist Steven Harwell. Born in 1967, Harwell’s first major musical involvement was that of a rapper for a group known as Freedom of Speech (F.O.S.), but he would only release one single as a member before quitting the team. He reportedly left the group after hearing “The Chronic”, a 1992 album by Doctor Dre, which, to Harwell, suggested that the music scene was changing. He decided to pursue a new genre entirely, leading to his tenure as a member of Smash Mouth. The band released a total of seven studio albums, starting with Fush Yu Mang in 1997. They also released a number of singles the same year, including their first hit single “Walkin’ on the Sun.”

Their second studio album, Astro Lounge, was released two years later in 1999. This album featured the pop influenced “All Star”, which remains Smash Mouth’s most popular song to date. Later, in 2001, “All Star” would be featured prominently in the first Shrek movie, further solidifying its popular culture influence. Paralleling the popularity of Shrek, “All Star” rapidly diffused across the internet, contributing distinctly to the growing meme culture of the early 21st century. Even today, Harwell’s “All Star” remains a well known pillar of internet history.

Throughout much of his life, Harwell struggled with severe alcoholism. This led to a diagnosis of Cardiomyopathy in 2013, a disease that prevents the heart from pumping blood throughout the body at the necessary rate. He was also congruently diagnosed to have encephalopathy, defined as a decrease in oxygen flow to the brain. Harwell would continue to sing for Smash Mouth until he finally announced his retirement in 2021, after a controversial show in October in Bethel, New York. Eyewitnesses mentioned that he seemed to be acting intoxicated, insulting and threatening fans, with several accounts even claiming he performed the Nazi salute. The backlash from this incident likely played a role in his retirement from the entertainment industry, along with his deteriorating health. On September 4, 2023, Harwell passed away in his Boise, Idaho home at the age of 56. According to his manager, Robert Hayes, he ultimately succumbed to liver failure.

For much of his career, Harwell lived as a rather controversial figure: loved by his fans but hated by his critics. However, regardless of one’s personal opinions of him, it’s no secret that Harwell’s voice is one of the better known ones to emerge during the pop explosion of the 90s. With all likelihood, his legacy – as well as Smash Mouth’s as a whole – will live on for generations to come.