Steve Harwell, former Smash Mouth lead singer, dead at 56

Steve Harwell, the longtime frontman of the Grammy-nominated pop rock band Smash Mouth, has died of acute liver failure, his manager says.

Singer known for playful alt-rock voice and persona was in hospice care for acute liver failure

A man sings on stage under blue lights.
Steve Harwell, the lead singer of Smash Mouth, performs on Sept. 12, 2015, in Brooklyn, N.Y. Harwell died of acute liver failure Monday at age 56. (Brad Barket/Getty Images)

Steve Harwell, the longtime frontman of the Grammy-nominated pop rock band Smash Mouth has died. He was 56.

The band's manager, Robert Hayes, said Harwell "passed peacefully and comfortably" Monday morning surrounded by family and friends at his home in Boise, Idaho. The cause of death was acute liver failure, Hayes said in a statement.

Smash Mouth was known for hits including All Star and Then the Morning Comes.

"Steve Harwell was a true American original. A larger than life character who shot up into the sky like a Roman candle," Hayes said. "Steve should be remembered for his unwavering focus and impassioned determination to reach the heights of pop stardom."

Born in California in 1967, Harwell performed in a rap group called F.O.S. (Freedom of Speech) before forming Smash Mouth in 1994. The band released two two platinum albums on Interscope Records, the ska-fuelled 1997's Fush Yu Mang and 1999's Astro Lounge.

"His only tools were his irrepressible charm and charisma, his fearlessly reckless ambition, and his king-size cajones," Hayes said. "Steve lived a 100 per cent full-throttle life. Burning brightly across the universe before burning out.

"He will be greatly missed by those who knew and loved him," he said.

WATCH | The video for Smash Mouth's biggest hit, All Star:

Humour part of band's success

The second album featured some of the band's biggest hits, including the Grammy-nominated, platinum single All Star, which appeared in the movie Shrek alongside their cover of the Monkees' I'm a Believer.

Humour was a driving force behind Smash Mouth's success, and at the forefront was Harwell's playful alt-rock voice and persona. He made a cameo in 2001 comedy film Rat Race, and had a well-documented friendship with the Food Network chef and host Guy Fieri. 

On Monday, tributes began pouring in. Fieri wrote on Instagram: "To my brutha Steve RIP. Today is a sad day, I will miss my friend."

'N Sync members Chris Kirkpatrick and Joey Fatone also shared short messages. "I'm truly sorry for the difficult battle you had to fight," Kirkpatrick posted on Instagram. "You were an amazing soul and will be deeply missed."

Fatone said he had known Harwell for a long time. "Opened for NSync and even was my wedding singer at my wedding," wrote Fatone, adding that "Hopefully people out there that are dealing with addiction … get the right help that they need."

Guy in red tee and black cap holding a mic laughs with a guy in a black tee, who has his arm around his shoulder
Joey Fatone, left, of 'N Sync and Harwell perform during the 50th anniversary celebration at the Disney-MGM Studios in Lake Buena Vista, Fla., on May 4, 2005. (Rick Fowler/Reuters)

Today host Carson Daly published a two-part statement on Instagram, recalling the first time he met Harwell in 1995, when he was a DJ on JOME in San Jose and Smash Mouth was a new band.

"In better days, Steve was a force of a frontman & lived the life of 50 men," Daly wrote. "He brought joy to millions with his music and his legacy will thankfully live on."

"Rest in peace Steve Harwell," comedian Tom Green tweeted. "I remember hanging with you back in the MTV days you were always super cool and an amazing talent — my condolences to your family and friends."

Harwell left Smash Mouth in 2021 and the band continued to tour with Zach Goode as the singer.

The band released a statement at the time, saying Harwell had been diagnosed with cardiomyopathy eight years earlier and had suffered "non-stop serious medical setbacks, including heart failure, as well as acute Wernicke encephalopathy."

A man sings on stage.
Harwell performs during a New Year's Eve event in Las Vegas on Dec. 31, 2006. (Ethan Miller/Getty Images)

Hayes had released a statement on Sunday saying Harwell was in hospice care.

Harwell will be cremated in Boise and buried in San Jose, Calif., alongside his mother, Hayes said.