Smash Mouth lead singer Steve Harwell lived in Los Gatos and was slapped with a restraining order a year before a Oct. 9, 2021 meltdown in Bethel, N.Y., in which he flipped off and threatened to kill audience members and flashed a Nazi salute.
The petition filed by his ex-fiancé sheds light on the rock frontman’s tragic decline and his struggles with alcohol, cocaine and mental illness. “His alcohol and drug abuse is causing him to literally lose his mind,” the Los Gatos woman wrote in a declaration filed with Santa Clara County family court.
At the time, Harwell lived on Chester Street, off of University Avenue near Highway 9. It was less than three miles from the Vasona area residence of the woman who, in the words of her attorney Robert Bohn Jr., “simply demands that any conduct directed toward her and communications with her … stop immediately.”
Bohn warned Harwell with legal consequences should the behavior persist and that “neither addiction nor substance abuse is a defense to any of these claims. To be frank, should you continue this course, it will not end well for you.”
Four days after the May 1, 2020 letter, Esther Campbell filed her request for a stay-away order, writing that “he is convinced that I am cheating on him and has threatened my job, my boss, my office building. He sends me hundreds of texts, calls numerous times, etc. The police in Campbell had to go to my workplace.”
Even after the lawyer’s warning, she wrote, “He parked outside my house last night and his texts went from remorseful, to loving, to mean. He’s still calling and texting.”
Campbell also admonished: “He is prone to thoughts of hurting himself, and I am not sure what the next few days may bring.”
Harwell died on Monday, Sept. 4 at the age of 56 from liver failure, according to a statement from Smash Mouth management. The band is known for the hits “Walkin’ on the Sun” (1997) and “All Star” (1999) as well as a cover of the Neil Diamond song “I’m a Believer,” originally popularized by the Monkees, which appeared in the movie Shrek.
He led one of the most successful bands to emerge from the San Jose area through a successful string of hits and left the group after the 2021 on-stage incident went viral on social media.
“Steve Harwell is a drug abusing alcoholic,” his ex-girlfriend had written in her 2020 petition for protection. “The abuse started soon after we started dating two years ago. He would be fun, kind, engaged until the drinking started each day, then he would become verbally, mentally and emotionally abusive.”
“Things got so bad in September 2019 that I had to seek a restraining order as Steve threatened not only my job but my workplace. Campbell PD was summoned to make sure that he did not vandalize nor in any way harm my workplace.
“The harassment was similar to how it is now… texts, phone calls, emails, voicemails, driving by my house, threatening my career, etc. Steve entered rehab in October and for a couple of months was on the mend and seeking recovery however the drinking and drug abuse resumed sometime in 2020. Steve was admitted to Good Samaritan Hospital in February to detox from alcohol and cocaine but left after 2 days and has continued to decline.
“Since that time Steve stole my phone coming into my house one night in February and admitted to throwing it out on the highway.
“In March Steve again entered my home and stole my car keys. He proceeded to open the windows to my BMW and left the car out in the rain.
“Steve flip flops from stating he loves me, wants to get married, will do the recovery work needed, etc. to literally just hours later cussing at me, harassing me, abusing me. He is bipolar and not regularly taking his medication. He is abusing alcohol, cocaine and some prescription drugs.
“On May 4, 2020, Steve again threatened my job—I was going to lose my career, friends, etc. Steve texted 3 of my friends and my daughter. He also stalked friends and I in downtown Los Gatos. He parked his car near the park we were at and watched us for about 10 minutes.”
After the upstate New York performance, Harwell stepped down from the group and was replaced as Smash Mouth’s lead singer. The group’s announcement cited Harwell’s “nonstop serious medical setbacks including heart failure as well as acute Wernicke Encephalopathy,” a condition that impacts motor functions, speech and memory.
Harwell’s death prompted a flurry of tributes. Greg Camp, the Smash Mouth guitarist and songwriter with whom Harwell had a strained relationship, posted Tuesday on Facebook: “What a ride my friend. I had my reservations when we met and you wanted to start a band, but you quickly won me over with your humor, enormous personality and charm. I wouldn’t be the first nor last.
“Then I was introduced to your unwavering loyalty and humongous heart, throw in some annoying persistence and forceful motivation and I couldn’t resist. A strange brotherhood began to take shape as well as a musical bond through a love for 80’s new wave, classic rock n roll and hip hop,” Camp wrote.
“Along with your childhood friend Kevin Coleman and my old pal Paul Delisle we began our journey into the stratosphere.
“You said ‘Greg, you guys build the car and I’ll drive it.’ Man you sure are a hell of a driver Stevo. You drove us around the world, you also drove us all crazy but we did it again and again because we all believed in each other. A few pit stops, a few crew member changes as well as additions to the team and a few more laps.
“We won some and we lost some but today we lost you. The world will have your unique brand forever through the music we created together with you at the wheel. So long for now, thank you for the laughs, the love and for sharing yourself with all of us. Rest easy brother.”