- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 22, 2003

LOS ANGELES - Elliott Smith, a singer-songwriter whose dark, introspective songs won him critical acclaim and an Academy Award nomination, apparently has committed suicide, his publicist and coroner’s officials said yesterday. He was 34.

Mr. Smith’s body was found Tuesday by his live-in girlfriend, Los Angeles County coroner records supervisor Marsha Grigsby told AP Radio.

He sustained a single stab wound to the chest that seemed to be self-inflicted, she said.

Mr. Smith released five solo albums, which received widespread acclaim from rock critics and garnered modest commercial success. “Miss Misery,” recorded for director Gus Van Sant’s “Good Will Hunting,” was nominated for an Oscar in 1998.

Mr. Smith’s lushly tuneful songs often were compared with those of Alex Chilton, Nick Drake and the Beatles, his favorite band.

Lyrically, they addressed such dark subject matter as drug addiction, troubled relationships and loneliness — though Mr. 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 with the Los Angeles Times.

However, Mr. Smith had spoken recently 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 June 2003.

In an effort to quit drinking, Mr. Smith said, he had undergone a treatment involving an intravenous solution meant to clear the bloodstream of toxins.

Mr. Smith was born Steven Paul Smith 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., while in high school to live with his father.

He 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.”

A graduate of Hampshire College in Amherst, Mass., he later joined a Portland punk band called Heatmiser. He recorded several solo albums on independent labels, winning a devoted underground following.

In 1997, he moved to New York, where Mr. Van Sant approached him with an offer to use several of his songs on the soundtrack to “Good Will Hunting.”

Mr. Smith subsequently signed with DreamWorks Records and recorded two albums. “XO” (1998) and “Figure 8” (2000) continued his critical winning streak and took him to the middle reaches of Billboard’s Top 200 albums chart.

Associated Press writer Justin Glanville in New York contributed to this report.

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