Artists such as Frank Ocean, Phoebe Bridgers, and Adrianne Lenker have all cited Elliott Smith as a great influence on their music. Since his tragic death, Smith has become an indie music legend—but sadly, he was never really cut out for fame.
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In 1998, Elliott Smith was the most unlikely nominee for an Academy Award. His song “Miss Misery” from Good Will Hunting was up against Titanic’s “My Heart Will Go On.” Rolling Stone even described the nomination as “shocking”—and it seemed to come as a shock to Smith too.
Initially, Smith didn’t even want to perform his song at the Oscars, but the producers insisted that they would play the song with or without him—and so he finally agreed. For Smith, the entire experience was “surreal,” and he later said, “The Oscars was a very strange show…I wouldn’t want to live in that world, but it was fun to walk around on the moon for a day.”
To nobody’s surprise, “My Heart Will Go On” won over “Miss Misery”. Madonna, who presented the award, even sarcastically quipped, “What a shocker!” But despite losing, Elliott Smith’s life would never be the same.
A Tragic End
“Miss Misery” catapulted Smith into mainstream music, but his growing popularity seemed to be a detriment to his mental health. Smith suffered from depression and addiction—his inner demons often mirrored in his sorrowful lyrics. In the documentary Heaven Adores You, there’s a clip of him saying, “I’m the wrong kind of person to be really big and famous.”
Only five years after his Oscar nomination, Elliott Smith died far too soon at the age of 34. He’d been stabbed in the chest twice—and to this day, nobody knows if he was the victim of murder, or if his injuries were self-inflicted. The investigation remains open.