South Bay locals mourn death of Smash Mouth frontman Steve Harwell

The music world mourned the death of famed rock singer Steve Harwell on Monday, who hailed from the South Bay. 

Harwell was best known as the frontman for the alternative rock group, Smash Mouth.

His musical journey began on South Second Street in Campbell, at Soundtek Studios.

Robert Berry, the owner of the studio, recalled Harwell's larger-than-life personality and distinctive voice.

"It wasn’t especially in-tune. It wasn’t virtuoso. It just was unique. It was different," Berry remarked.

Starting in the 1990s, Smash Mouth, led by Harwell, had a string of hits, including the generational anthem "All Star."

Music experts said the group’s sound was a one-of-a-kind cross between the Doors and the Rolling Stones.

"It was a fusion of pop, rock, and ska. And once again another unique product out of San Jose," explained Dan Orloff, founder of San Jose Rocks, a nonprofit dedicated to promoting music literacy.

As Harwell's star ascended, he remained steadfast in his support for local establishments close to his heart, such as Sushi Confidential in Campbell.

The restaurant's walls are adorned with pictures of the South Bay rocker with owner Randy Musterer.

"He supported not only my restaurant, but of businesses here in downtown Campbell and Los Gatos," said Musterer.

Their 15-year friendship featured parties and celebrations for some of life's milestones. However, it was a personal tragedy that deeply affected the Grammy-nominated artist.

Decades ago, Harwell's young son succumbed to childhood leukemia.

"If someone experiences something so harrowing as the loss of a child, they often will seek to self-medicate through drugs or alcohol use," explained Dr. Karl Minges, a public health expert at the University of New Haven.

The pain of losing his child led Harwell down a path of abuse, reportedly culminating in liver failure, according to published reports.

"Some felt helpless. So many tried to help him. And, he was on a course," said Orloff.

Harwell's manager confirmed that he passed away peacefully, surrounded by family and friends in Boise, Idaho.

The collective sadness in the South Bay and beyond, is tempered by the lasting impact Harwell and his music will have on many lives.

"I’ve done a lot of crying. And just going through my Facebook feed to see how many people he’s touched," said Musterer. "He definitely got through to a lot of people through his music."

Harwell was 56 years old.

Jesse Gary is a reporter based in the South Bay bureau. Follow him on X (formerly Twitter), @JesseKTVU and on Instagram, @jessegontv.