This week’s tragic news of Steve Harwell’s death did not pass without notice in the recovery community. How did Steve Harwell die and what does it tell us about the pressures of fame and celebrity alcohol addiction? We will explore those questions in this North Jersey Recovery Center article.
Smashmouth’s Steve Harwell’s Death Attributed to Alcohol Addiction
We now know that Steve Harwell’s official cause of death was acute liver failure. Harwell died surrounded by his loved ones after a brief stay in hospice. The fact he was in hospice tells us that his death, sad as it was, was not sudden or unexpected. His band Smashmouth was tremendously well-known. In the late 90s, you could scarcely make it through a day without hearing their 1999 hit “All Star” blaring from a car stereo in a passing Jeep Wrangler or convertible Ford Mustang.
But how did Steve Harwell die of acute liver failure at just 56 years of age? Harwell’s carefree youth was undoubtedly behind him, but few of us expect to die in our 50s, especially from what is generally a preventable illness. Once Steve Harwell’s cause of death was made public, it was inevitable that the curiosity of fans and the media would lead to questions. Celebrity alcohol addiction was bound to enter the conversation, especially since the Smashmouth frontman had been open about his battle with alcohol in the past.
Symptoms of acute liver failure include:
- Pain/discomfort on the right side of the body, below the ribs
- Loss of appetite
- Vomiting blood
How Alcohol Use Disorder Can Lead to Liver Failure
Alcohol use disorder is not the only contributing factor to acute liver failure, but it is one of the most common causes of this fatal condition. The liver serves many functions in the body, but one of the primary ones is the processing of blood. It breaks down nutrients and chemicals and helps maintain healthy blood sugar levels.
The liver is where medications are metabolized too, which is why so many medications mention the liver in potential side effects or precautions. The liver is also responsible for “filtering” toxins from the blood and that includes alcohol. Celebrity alcohol addiction, like any other alcohol use disorder, places tremendous strain on the liver.
Potential causes of acute liver failure include:
- Acetaminophen (Tylenol) overdose
- Acute alcohol-induced liver injury
- Hepatitis complications
- Epstein-Barr virus
- Wilson’s disease
- Herpes simplex virus
The human liver is a very resilient organ, out of necessity and it’s very adept at regenerating itself. However, there are limits to how much self-repair our livers can do and that capability declines with age and is affected by our relative health. Every time the liver processes alcohol, liver cells die in the process.
Chronic and/or long-term alcohol misuse not only causes more damage to the liver—but it can also undermine its miraculous ability for regeneration. Eventually, alcohol consumption can outpace the liver’s capacity for healing. At this point, fatty liver disease may give way to alcoholic hepatitis, cirrhosis, or other conditions which finally culminate in acute liver failure.
A Long History of Celebrity Alcohol Addiction
The most famous among us are no strangers to alcoholism. Sadly, fame offers no protection from addiction. If anything, it often makes addiction more likely. The pressures of fame, the lack of privacy, the demands of employers, and the expectations of fans.
It’s easy to fantasize about the celebrity life, but when we do, we rarely consider the stressful bits. Celebrities are just as vulnerable to depression, anxiety, trauma, and other mental health challenges as the rest of us. Add to that the fact that they often don’t have the structure of a regular “day job”. That means unstructured free time to fill.
Celebrity alcohol addiction often arises as a result of all of those things. There is also the desire of fans and hangers-on to party with the famous person. Everyone wants to be able to say they drank with a celebrity. Celebrities are often people-pleasers by nature and they may struggle to say no to moving the party to one more bar or to going out for another night, even when they know they shouldn’t.
British singer-songwriter Amy Winehouse was nothing less than a prodigy. Known for her deep, soulful crooning and timeless, genre-busting songs that seem to originate from an old soul, Winehouse became a member of the tragic “27 Club” when she passed away in 2011.
Amy Winehouse’s struggle with alcoholism was well-documented and pre-dated her celebrity. In fact, she began drinking alcohol at just 12 years old. In spite of becoming the veritable poster child for celebrity alcohol addiction, Winehouse resisted all attempts to get her to enter alcohol use disorder treatment. Finally, she did admit herself to rehab for alcoholism, in spite of her famous song to the contrary.
Sadly it may have been a case of too little, too late. After a short period of abstinence following treatment, Amy died from accidental alcohol poisoning following a binge-drinking episode. Joining the ranks of addicted celebrities who died at age 27, Amy left her fans and loved ones heartbroken and left the world deprived of a remarkable talent.
Another songstress closely associated with celebrity alcohol addiction, Janis Joplin had more than a few things in common with Amy Winehouse. They are both members of the “27 Club” having passed at the same age.
Both were female singer-songwriters famous for deeply soulful ballads and bluesy tunes that tug at the heartstrings and seem like the product of much older, world-weary spirits. Like Amy Winehouse, Janis was tormented by the ghosts of a troubled childhood. The love of millions of adoring fans and friends was not enough to keep Janis Joplin alive though.
Her well-known affection for Southern Comfort bourbon and barbituates unquestionably helped contribute to her early demise. But, like Amy, Janice dabbled in other substances too. It was a heroin overdose on October 4, 1970, that ultimately took her from this world.
Another casualty of celebrity alcohol addiction was Led Zeppelin drummer, John Bonham. Bonham helped fill stadiums and festivals during the same era as Janis Joplin. Bonham was legendary for his speed, power, and distinctive drumming style. He is often cited as one of the greatest rock drummers of all time.
Drinking to excess was the norm in the rock and popular music worlds in the 60s and 70s. But even for a member of one of the most famous bands in the world at the time, John Bonham was known as an especially prodigious drinker.
On September 25, 1980, Bonham consumed an excessive amount of vodka during rehearsal. Later that night, he was put to bed at guitarist Jimmy Page’s house, where the band was staying. Tragically, Bonham never woke up. He had aspirated on his own vomit during his sleep, a common risk associated with heavy drinking. His accidental death was attributed to alcohol intoxication by the coroner.
Exceptional Treatment for Alcohol Use Disorders in NJ
At North Jersey Recovery Center, we are in the business of rebuilding lives. One day at a time, we help people recover from alcohol addiction and other substance use disorders. Compassionate, evidence-based treatment for addiction based on the latest research is offered within these walls. But we also recognize there is more to crafting a life well-lived in recovery than exceptional treatment.
It also requires careful planning for the road ahead. This is why we pride ourselves on providing an exemplary aftercare and discharge planning service. Our dual-diagnosis treatment program in New Jersey will help you or your loved one find sobriety. The thorough road map to recovery we provide upon completion of the program will help them hold onto it.
If you or someone you love is struggling with alcohol or another substance, North Jersey Recovery Center is ready to help. Please contact us anytime or call us at (877) 790-5873 to begin moving forward.