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Steve Harwell, the former lead singer of Smash Mouth, dies at 56

DANIEL ESTRIN, HOST:

Let's remember an all-star of late '90s alternative rock. Steve Harwell, the former frontman of the band Smash Mouth, died yesterday at the age of 56. The cause was liver failure.

LEILA FADEL, HOST:

Smash Mouth formed in San Jose, Calif., in 1994. In '97, they released a debut album with this hit.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "WALKIN' ON THE SUN")

SMASH MOUTH: (Singing) So don't delay, act now, supplies are running out. Allow if you're still alive, 6 to 8 years to arrive. And if you follow, there may be a tomorrow. But if the offer's shunned, you might as well be walking on the sun.

ESTRIN: A video for the song captures the band's attitude and look. They're a little bit ska, a little bit retro, in bowling shirts, fedoras and shades. But it wasn't until their next album that Smash Mouth scored their biggest hit, and Harwell's voice was front and center.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "ALL STAR")

SMASH MOUTH: (Singing) Somebody once told me the world is going to roll me. I ain't the sharpest tool in the shed.

FADEL: In 1999, "All Star" reached No. 4 on the Billboard Hot 100. In 2001, the song was featured on the soundtrack of the animated film "Shrek," along with their cover of The Monkees' hit "I'm A Believer."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "I'M A BELIEVER")

SMASH MOUTH: (Singing) I'm in love. I'm a believer. I couldn't leave her if I tried.

ESTRIN: Now, Smash Mouth never had another big hit, but a younger generation breathed new life into "All Star" by turning it into a meme. YouTube creator Jon Sudano has racked up millions of views by mashing it up with other songs, including John Lennon's "Imagine."

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

JON SUDANO: (Singing) Well, the years start coming and they don't stop coming. Fed to the rules, and I hit the ground running.

FADEL: In an interview with NPR in 2018, Steve Harwell and guitarist Greg Camp were asked how they felt about performing their early hits over and over again. Here's Harwell.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED NPR BROADCAST)

STEVE HARWELL: We're proud to have these iconic songs that Greg has written and be able to perform them every night, you know? So it feels good.

ESTRIN: Now, in recent years, Steve Harwell's behavior on stage tarnished Smash Mouth's legacy. In 2020, the band performed at the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally flouting COVID-19 protocol. And during a performance in 2021, a video shows Harwell making a gesture that appears to be a Nazi salute.

FADEL: Not long after that incident, Harwell announced that he was stepping away from the band, citing physical and mental health issues. A statement sent to NPR by longtime Smash Mouth manager Robert Hayes says Harwell died at his home in Boise, Idaho.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "WALKIN' ON THE SUN")

SMASH MOUTH: (Singing) It ain't no joke, I'd like to buy the world a toke and teach the world to sing in perfect harmony, and teach the world to snuff the fires and the liars. Hey, I know it's just a song, but it's spice for the recipe. This is a love attack. I know it went out, but it's back. It's just like any fad, it retracts before impact. And just like fashion it's a passion for the with-it and hip. If you got the goods, they'll come and buy it just to stay in the clique. So don't delay, act now, supplies are running out. Allow if you're still alive, 6 to 8 years to arrive. And if you follow, there may be a tomorrow. But if the offer's shunned... Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

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