Full Name: Steven Paul Smith

NickName: “Elliott”

Description: Guitarist, Vocalist, USA

Known For: His first release, Roman Candle (1994)

Instruments: Guitar, vocals, piano, clarinet, bass guitar, harmonica, drums, melodica

Music Styles: Indie folk, indie pop, lo-fi indie, indie rock

Location: Omaha, Nebraska, U.S., Nebraska, United States of America

Date Born: 6th August 1969
Location Born: Omaha, Nebraska, United States of America

Date Died: 21st October 2013
Location Died: Los Angeles, California, United States of America
Cause Of Death: (aged 34)

Web Site:  Official website

Other Links: See below:



Elliott Smith

An American singer-songwriter and musician. Smith was born in Omaha, Nebraska, raised primarily in Texas, and resided for a significant portion of his life in Portland, Oregon, the area in which he first gained popularity. Smith’s primary instrument was the guitar, but he was also proficient with piano, clarinet, bass guitar, drums, and harmonica. Smith had a distinctive vocal style, characterized by his “whispery, spiderweb-thin delivery”, and used multi-tracking to create vocal layers, textures and harmonies.

After playing in the rock band Heatmiser for several years, Smith began his solo career in 1994, with releases on the independent record labels Cavity Search and Kill Rock Stars (KRS). In 1997, he signed a contract with DreamWorks Records, the label for which he recorded two albums. Smith rose to mainstream prominence when his song “Miss Misery”—included in the soundtrack for the film Good Will Hunting—was nominated for an Oscar in the Best Original Song category in 1998.

Smith suffered from depression, alcoholism and drug dependence, and these topics often appear in his lyrics. At age 34, he died in Los Angeles, California, from two stab wounds to the chest. The autopsy evidence was inconclusive as to whether the wounds were self-inflicted. At the time of his death, Smith was working on his sixth studio album, From a Basement on the Hill, which was posthumously released.

Steven Paul Smith was born at the Clarkson Hospital in Omaha, Nebraska, the only child to Gary Smith, a student at the University of Nebraska Medical Center, and Bunny Kay Berryman, an elementary school music teacher. His parents divorced when he was six months old, and Smith moved with his mother to Duncanville, Texas. Much later in his life, Smith got a tattoo of a map of Texas on his upper arm and said, “I didn’t get it because I like Texas, kind of the opposite. But I won’t forget about it, although I’m tempted to because I don’t like it there.

Smith endured a difficult childhood and a troubled relationship with his stepfather Charlie Welch. Later in life, Smith would come to terms with the fact that he had been sexually abused by Welch at a young age. He reflected the impact of this part of his life in the lyrics of “Some Song”: “Charlie beat you up week after week, and when you grow up you’re going to be a freak.” The name “Charlie” also appeared in the lyrics for “Flowers for Charlie” and “No Confidence Man”.

The family was a part of the Community of Christ through much of Smith’s childhood, but eventually began attending services at a local Methodist Church. Smith felt that going to church did little for him, except make him “really scared of Hell”. In a 2001 interview, he stated, “I don’t necessarily buy into any officially structured version of spirituality. But I have my own version of it”.

At the age of nine, Smith began playing the piano, and at ten began learning guitar on a small acoustic guitar bought for him by his father. At this age he also composed an original piano piece, “Fantasy”, which won him a prize at an arts festival. Many of the people on his mother’s side of the family were non-professional musicians; his grandfather was a Dixieland drummer and his grandmother sang in a glee club.

At fourteen, Smith moved from Texas to Portland, Oregon, to live with his father, who was then working as a psychiatrist, along with his stepmother and two half-sisters. It was around this time that Smith first began using drugs, including alcohol, with friends as well as experimenting with recording for the first time, borrowing a four-track recorder.

During high school, Smith played clarinet in the school band and also played guitar, piano and sang in the bands Stranger Than Fiction and A Murder of Crows, billed as either Steven Smith or “Johnny Panic”. He graduated from Lincoln High School as a National Merit Scholar.

After graduation, Smith began calling himself “Elliott”, saying that he thought “Steve” sounded too much like a “jock” name, and that “Steven” sounded “too bookish”.
According to friends, he had also used the pseudonym “Elliott Stillwater-Rotter” during his time in the band Murder of Crows. Biographer S. R. Shutt speculates that it was either inspired by Elliott Avenue, a street that Smith had lived on in Portland, or that it was suggested by his then-girlfriend. A junior high acquaintance of Smith speculates that it was so as not to be confused with Steve Smith, the drummer of Journey.


Smith graduated from Hampshire College in Amherst, Massachusetts in 1991 with a degree in philosophy and political science. “Went straight through in four years”, he explained to Under the Radar in 2003. “I guess it proved to myself that I could do something I really didn’t want to for four years. Except I did like what I was studying. At the time it seemed like, ‘This is your one and only chance to go to college and you had just better do it because some day you might wish that you did.’ Plus, the whole reason I applied in the first place was because of my girlfriend, and I had gotten accepted already even though we had broken up before the first day.” After he graduated he “worked in a bakery back in Portland with a bachelor’s degree in philosophy and legal theory.”

While at Hampshire, Smith formed the band Heatmiser with classmate Neil Gust. After graduating from Hampshire, the band added drummer Tony Lash and bassist Brandt Peterson and began performing around Portland in 1992. The group released the albums Dead Air (1993) and Cop and Speeder (1994) as well as the Yellow No. 5 EP (1994) on Frontier Records, and were then signed to Virgin Records to release what became their final album, Mic City Sons (1996).

Around this time, Smith and Gust worked a number of odd jobs around Portland, including installing drywall, spreading gravel, transplanting bamboo trees and painting the roof of a warehouse with heat reflective paint. The pair were also on unemployment for some time, which they considered an “artist grant”.

Smith had begun his solo career while still in Heatmiser, and the success of his first two releases created distance and tension with his band. Heatmiser disbanded prior to Mic City Sons’ release, prompting Virgin to put the album out inauspiciously through its independent arm, Caroline Records. A clause in Heatmiser’s record contract with Virgin meant that Smith was still bound to it as an individual. The contract was later bought out by DreamWorks prior to the release of his album, XO.

His first release, Roman Candle (1994), came about when Smith’s girlfriend at the time convinced him to send a tape of “the most recent eight songs that [he’d] recorded on borrowed four-tracks and borrowed guitar” to Cavity Search Records.

In 1995, Smith’s self-titled album was released on Kill Rock Stars; the record featured a similar style of recording to Roman Candle, but with hints of growth and experimentation.

In 1996, Smith was tapped by director and fellow Portland resident Gus Van Sant to be a part of the soundtrack to his film, Good Will Hunting. Smith recorded an orchestral version of “Between the Bars” with composer Danny Elfman for the movie. Smith also contributed a new song, “Miss Misery, ” and three previously-released tracks (“No Name #3”, from Roman Candle, and “Angeles” and “Say Yes”, from Either/Or). The film was a commercial and critical success, and Smith was nominated for an Academy Award for “Miss Misery”. Not eager to step into the limelight, he only agreed to perform the song at the ceremony after the producers informed him that his song would be played live that night—either by him or another musician of their choosing.

Around the time he began recording his final album, Smith began to display signs of paranoia, often believing that a white van followed him wherever he went. He would have friends drop him off for recording sessions almost a mile away from the studio, and to reach the location he would trudge through hundreds of yards of brush and cliffs.

He started telling people that DreamWorks was out to get him: “Not long ago my house was broken into, and songs were stolen off my computer which have wound up in the hands of certain people who work at a certain label. I’ve also been followed around for months at a time. I wouldn’t even want to necessarily say it’s the people from that label who are following me around, but it was probably them who broke into my house. “[29] During this period, Smith hardly ate, subsisting primarily on ice cream. He would go for several days without sleeping, and then sleep for an entire day.


Smith died on October 21, 2003, at age 34 from two stab wounds to the chest. At the time of the stabbing, he was at his Lemoyne Street home in Echo Park, California, where he lived with his girlfriend, Jennifer Chiba. According to Chiba, the two were arguing, and she locked herself in the bathroom to take a shower. Chiba heard him scream, and upon opening the door, saw Smith standing with a knife in his chest. She pulled the knife out, after which he collapsed and she called 9-1-1. Smith died in the hospital with the time of death listed as 1:36 p.m. A possible suicide note, written on a Post-it, read, “I’m so sorry—love, Elliott. God forgive me.” The coroner’s report had the name Elliott misspelled as “Elliot”, however “a coroner’s official told TSG that Smith’s first name was misspelled in the report”, not on the Post-it note.

While Smith’s death was originally reported as a suicide, the official autopsy report released in December 2003 left open the question of possible homicide.

According to Pitchfork Media, record producer Larry Crane reported on his Tape Op message board that he had planned to help Smith mix his album in mid-November. Crane wrote, “I hadn’t talked to Elliott in over a year. His girlfriend, Jennifer, called me [last week] and asked if I’d like to come to L.A. and help mix and finish [Smith’s album]. I said yes, of course, and chatted with Elliott for the first time in ages. It seems surreal that he would call me to finish an album and then a week later kill himself. I talked to Jennifer this morning, who was obviously shattered and in tears, and she said, ‘I don’t understand, he was so healthy.'”

The coroner’s report revealed that no traces of illegal substances or alcohol were found in his system at the time of his death, but did find prescribed levels of antidepressant, anxiolytic and ADHD medications in his system, including Clonazepam, Mirtazapine, Atomoxetine and Amphetamine. Also, no hesitation wounds were found on Smith, a trait typical of suicide by self infliction.With his death not being officially declared a suicide, journalist Alyson Camus noted numerous discrepancies and contradictions in the case that suggest foul play. However, the authorities do not seem to be investigating the case further.

Smith’s body was cremated. No public burial site or memorial was ever formally announced.


Elliott Smith discography

Studio albums Roman Candle (1994)
Elliott Smith (1995)
Either/Or (1997)
XO (1998)
Figure 8 (2000)
From a Basement on the Hill (2004)