Steve Harwell: Brain Damage from Alcohol


Steve Harwell was lead vocalist for the rock band Smash Mouth from its formation in 1994 until his retirement in 2021. He produced three top hit songs: “Walkin’ on the Sun,” “All Star” and “I’m a Believer.” He and the band sold more than 10 million albums and had two #1 hit singles, five Top 40 singles, three Hot 100 singles, four Billboard 200 albums and a Grammy nomination. The band also appeared on hundreds of film and television placements and was featured on “Shrek.”

Throughout most of his life, Harwell suffered from alcoholism. On September 4, 2023, at age 56, he died in hospice care in his home from liver failure and Wernicke-Korsakoff (WK) syndrome. WK syndrome is brain damage from excessive alcohol intake, and recent studies show that some cases may be due to a hereditary disorder of thiamine (vitamin B1) metabolism. The thalamus and hypothalamus in the brain show significant damage that can eventually cause complete loss of memory. The condition is associated with:
• excess alcohol intake
• lack of nutrients
• prolonged vomiting
• eating disorders restricting certain foods
• chemotherapy.
Symptoms include: confusion, visual disturbances, coma, low body temperature, low blood pressure, loss of muscle coordination, tremor, passing out and disorientation. Treatment involves immediate complete avoidance of alcohol, replacement of the vitamin thiamine, proper nutrition and adequate fluid intake. Some people improve on this regimen.
Plenty of Warning that Alcohol was Destroying Him
In 1999, Harwell told Rolling Stone that, “A lot of people said that we weren’t talented enough to do that type of s—t. Well, we did it, and I want them to eat their words. We got slagged so much by people who wanted us to fail . . . Even friends want you to fail. They’d get a good laugh if I fell flat on my face. We did this record to let people know, Hey, don’t f—k with us. We built this team and nobody’s going to take it away from us.”
In 2013, he was diagnosed with heart muscle damage and Wernicke encephalopathy, which can affect speech and memory.
In 2015, at a Fort Collins, Colorado show, he yelled profanities at the audience and left the stage after food was thrown at him. He later apologized.
In 2016, during a concert in Urbana, Illinois, he collapsed on stage and was hospitalized.
In 2017, he cancelled a show and was hospitalized with heart muscle damage.
In 2020, at the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally in South Dakota, at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, he and just about the entire crowd did not wear masks. He told the crowd “f—k that COVID s—t.” The event was later classed as a superspreading event by the National Institutes of Health.
In 2021, at Bethel Woods Center for the Arts in Bethel, New York, he appeared drunk, slurred his words, threatened the audience, raised his middle finger to fans and appeared to make a Nazi salute. Soon after that, he announced his retirement due to his health problems. A representative of the band told the New York Post that Harwell had brain damage that had affected him for eight years, and that he would no longer be performing.

Lessons from Steve Harwell’s Young Death
Alcohol can be a poison at any dose and the more you drink, the greater the liver and brain damage. Inappropriate behavior is often an early sign of brain damage. When someone is argumentative or mean to you for no obvious reason, do not argue with that person. Blaming and arguing for no appropriate reason are early signs of dementia or brain damage from any source. Be nice and if that doesn’t help, you are better off avoiding that person, rather than arguing with them. See Treatment for Alcohol Problems: Finding and Getting Help

Steven Scott Harwell
January 9, 1967 – September 4, 2023