Elliott Smith, critically lauded and much-loved singer-songwriter, has died at the age of 34. He was discovered at his home in Silver Lake late Tuesday morning with a single stab wound to the chest and was rushed to USC Medical Center, where efforts to revive him were unsuccessful.
Born Steven Paul Smith on August 6, 1969, in Omaha, Nebraska, Smith grew up near Dallas, where he showed a talent for playing a variety of instruments and a knack for songwriting at an early age. Relocating to Portland after earning a degree in political science and philosophy from Hampshire College in Amherst, Massachusetts, he formed the band Heatmiser, and began his solo career in 1994 with the release of Roman Candle, a collection of introspective ballads and haunting instrumental work on local label Cavity Search. Switching to the Olympia-based Kill Rock Stars label the following year, Smith earned mounting acclaim for his self-titled second release, and in 1997 achieved something of a mainstream breakthrough with Either/Or, a work whose spellbinding melodies caught the attention of filmmaker Gus Van Sant, who featured several of the album’s songs — along with the Oscar-nominated “Miss Misery” — on his Good Will Hunting soundtrack.
After a brief time in New York, Smith relocated to Los Angeles and made the leap to major label DreamWorks for his next two releases, 1998’s XO and 2000’s Figure 8 — both of which won well-deserved critical accolades and moderate commercial success. But around the time of his disastrous appearance at the 2001 Sunset Junction Street Fair, it became apparent that he was losing his battle with the alcoholism, depression and heroin addiction he had chronicled so candidly in compositions like “Needle in the Hay.” At the time of his death, Smith had been working on a double album, tentatively titled From a Basement on the Hill, with local producer Fritz Michaud. He will be sorely missed.
Read other L.A. Weekly pieces about Elliott Smith:
Anonymity, Misery, Softness: Can Elliott Smith save pop music?, by Alec Hanley Bemis, May 5–11, 2000.
Elliott Smith at the Henry Fonda Theater, February 1, 2003, Live in L.A. review by Liam Gowing, February 7–13, 2003.