Elliott was born Steven Paul Smith on August 6 1969. His parents were Gary and Bunny Smith, who were living in Omaha, Nebraska. A year after his birth, his parents filed a divorce, leading to Bunny moving to Duncanville, Texas. Bunny took Elliott with her and it was there, in Texas, where Elliott was to be raised.
His father, Gary, was working in a medical school at the time of the divorce. Later that year he was assigned to the U.S. Air Force and sent to the Philippines as a physician. At 5 years old, Elliott saw that both his parents had remarried with his father and stepmother moving to Portland, Oregon. From the age of 5 up till the age of 13, Elliott lived with his mother, stepfather and two half-siblings in Dallas. When he hit fourteen, Elliott moved again, this time to Portland in order to live with his father, stepmother, and two half-sisters.
Elliott began writing and recording his songs in his own home, in Portland. His weapon of choice was a four-track recorder. Elliott's education involved attending Lincoln High School. While at Lincoln High, He decided to get rid of his christian "Steven" and change his name to "Elliott". It was at this high school that he formed his first band, Stranger than Fiction. Elliott then went on to attend Hampshire College and graduated in 1991 with a major in political philosophy. After his graduation, Elliott moved back to Portland and soon after formed his second band, Heatmiser, with Neil Gust, a close friend and musician.
Elliott recorded four albums with Heatmiser in the early ‘90s: Dead Air and Cop and Speeder and Mic City Sons. However, as time went on, he began to realise that he did not enjoy being in such a band, and it was in 1994 he finally realeased his first solo album, Roman Candle. A year later, he folllowed up with his album, Elliott Smith and two years after that he released Either/Or.
The same year as Either/Or was released, a friend of Elliott's, Gus Van Sant, approached him asking him for permission to use some of his songs in the film "Good Will Hunting". Elliott agreed and his song, which he wrote for the film, Miss Misery, went on to be nominated for Best Song at the Acadamy Awards. He went on to perform his song on the Acadamy Awards telecast of March 23, 1998. The folk-punk singer/songwriter rose from indie obscurity to mainstream success on the strength of Miss Misery.
In the same year as his Oscar nomination, Elliott signed a solo deal with DreamWorks Records and released Xo, his fourth solo album. Two years later Elliott released figure 8 to much critical success and continued tourin the world as a solo acoustic artist.
Elliott battled drug addiction, depression and alcholism for many years of his life. This was evidently portrayed in most of his work; however, seemingly obvious songs such as Needle in the Hay were frequently misinterpreted to be about his own battles, when in actual fact the problems he faced did not develop until his years later. In 2002, Smith went to the Neurotransmitter Restoration Center in Beverly Hills to start a course of treatment for his drug addiction.
Prior to his death, Elliott had begun writing and reworking the songs that make up his forthcoming release, From A Basement On The Hill. He died in the Silver Lake neighborhood of Los Angeles, California at age 34, from two stab wounds to the chest. While the death was originally reported as a suicide, the official autopsy report released in late December 2003 left the question open:
While his history of depression is compatible with suicide, and the location and direction of the stab wound is consistent with self-infliction, several aspects of the circumstances (as are known at this time) are atypical of suicide and raise the possibility of homicide. These include the absence of hesitation wounds, stabbing through clothing, and the presence of small incised wounds on the right arm and left hand (possible defensive wounds). Additionally, the girlfriend's [Jennifer Chiba's] reported removal of the knife and subsequent refusal to speak with detectives are all of concern.
According to the coroner's report, the alleged suicide note, written on a Post-it, read, "I'm so sorry - love, Elliot. God forgive me." The misspelling of "Elliott" was later acknowledged as a mistake on the part of the coroner.
Elliott's music touched many, influenced a great percentage of indie artists, and for his legacy, it will forever continue to live and propser.