Songwriter Elliott Smith Dead at 34
By RYAN PEARSON, Associated Press Writer
LOS ANGELES - Elliott Smith (news), a singer-songwriter whose dark, introspective songs won him critical acclaim and an Academy Award nomination, has apparently committed suicide, his publicist and coroner's officials said Wednesday. He was 34.
Smith was found by his live-in girlfriend Tuesday, Los Angeles County Coroner Records Supervisor Marsha Grigsby told AP Radio.
He sustained a single stab wound to the chest that appeared to be self-inflicted, she said.
Smith's New York-based publicist, who spoke on condition of anonymity, also confirmed his death.
Smith released five solo albums that received widespread acclaim from rock critics and garnered modest commercial success. His song "Miss Misery," recorded for the film "Good Will Hunting," was nominated for an Academy Award in 1998.
Smith's songs were often compared with those of Alex Chilton (news), Nick Drake and the Beatles, his favorite band. They were marked by intricate melodies written over unorthodox chord changes.
Lyrically, they addressed such dark subject matter as drug addiction, troubled relationships and loneliness — though Smith tried to distance himself from the label of confessional songwriter.
"I don't feel like my songs are particularly fragile or revealing," he said in a 1998 interview in the Los Angeles Times. "It's not like a diary, and they're not intended to be any sort of super intimate confessional singer-songwriterish thing."
Smith was born Steven Paul Smith on Aug. 6, 1969, in Nebraska; his mother was a singer and his father was a psychiatrist. He spent most of his childhood with his mother in the suburbs of Dallas and then moved to Portland, Ore., in high school to live with his father.
Smith studied piano and guitar as a youth and began composing songs when he was 13. He began calling himself Elliott in middle school, he later explained to a reporter, because Steve sounded too "jockish."
Smith graduated Hampshire College in Amhert, Mass., with a degree in philosophy and later joined a Portland punk band called Heatmiser. On the side, he recorded several solo albums — "Roman Candle" (1994), "Elliott Smith" (1995) and "Either/Or" (1997), all on independent labels — that won him a devoted underground following.
In 1997, he moved to New York City, where film director Gus Van Sant (news) approached him with an offer to use several of Smith's songs on the soundtrack to "Good Will Hunting." The movie was a hit, bringing Smith's music to a mainstream audience.
Smith subsequently signed with Dreamworks Records and recorded two albums with bigger budgets that featured denser arrangements than his early work. "XO" (1998) and "Figure 8" (2000) continued Smith's critical winning streak, and took him to the middle reaches of Billboard's Top 200 albums chart.
"I don't really have any goals as a songwriter," he once said, "other than to show what it's like to be a person — just like everybody else who's ever played music does."
Smith had recently spoken in interviews about his struggles with alcoholism. "When I lived in New York I was really a bad alcoholic for a few years," he told Under the Radar magazine in an interview published in June 2003.
In an effort to quit drinking, Smith told the magazine, he had undergone treatment at the Neurotransmitter Restoration Center in Beverly Hills, which administers an intravenous solution meant to clear the bloodstream of toxins.
Associated Press writer Justin Glanville in New York contributed to this report.