Eddie Van Halen, whose innovative and explosive guitar made him a legend in the rock community, died on Tuesday morning after a long battle with cancer. He was 65.

Van Halen’s son Wolfgang aka “Wolfie” announced the news. “He was the best father I could ever ask for. Every moment I’ve shared with him on and off stage was a gift. My heart is broken and I don’t think I’ll ever fully recover from this loss,” Wolfgang Van Halen tweeted.

Born in the Netherlands and raised in Pasadena, Calif., he founded Van Halen with his older brother, drummer Alex; the siblings were joined by vocalist David Lee Roth and bassist Michael Anthony in the first recording lineup of the group, which exploded after star-making gigs at such West Hollywood clubs as Gazzarri’s and the Starwood.

It was instantly apparent from Eruption, the solo showcase on Van Halen’s self-titled 1978 debut album for Warner Bros., that Eddie Van Halen was an instrumentalist to be reckoned with. In a mere one minute and 42 seconds, the Van Halen detonated a dazzling display of fretboard tapping, ringing harmonics, lightning-fast licks and smeared, dive-bombing effects…

…Acting as the band’s musical director and co-authoring the band’s tough-riffing songs, which straddled the boundary between hard rock and heavy metal, Eddie Van Halen found immediate success, and formulated a style that would be emulated by hordes of long-haired rockers.

The group’s first LP Van Halen though it climbed no higher than number 19 in the U.S., would ultimately be certified for sales of 10 million copies. Its next five multi-platinum albums all reached the top 10; 1984, released in its titular year, contained the band’s first and only number one single, the synthesizer-driven Jump, and sifted another 10 million units.

[When frontman David Lee Roth departed the band in 1985] Van Halen [was joined] ex-Montrose vocalist Sammy Hagar. Between 1986 and 1995, the group released four consecutive number one albums…

…Eddie Van Halen was dogged by personal and health issues that would intermittently interfere with his work in music over the course of the next decade. A chronic joint problem, exacerbated by his reckless onstage style, forced him to undergo hip replacement surgery in 1999. The onset of cancer — likely the result of heavy smoking — led to the surgical removal of part of his tongue in 2000…

…After years of false starts, Van Halen reconvened in 2007 with Roth as the front man and Wolfgang Van Halen, Eddie’s 16-year-old son, Wolfgang, replacing [Michael] Anthony on bass. Though a tour grossed more than $90 million, it was plagued by rumors of inter-band strife…

…A second tour fronted by Roth was launched on a more even keel in 2012, supporting an all-new album on Interscope, A Different Kind of Truth, which charted at number two. However, Eddie’s surgery for diverticulitis forced postponement of shows in Japan, which were among the first international dates since 1984.

Though whispers of further shows would swirl thereafter, Roth opined that “I think Van Halen’s finished” in a September 2019 radio interview in Detroit, just weeks before news of Eddie Van Halen’s treatment for throat cancer surfaced in the press.

Edward Lodewijk Van Halen was born Jan. 26, 1955, in Amsterdam. His father played the clarinet, saxophone, and piano, and both he and his brother Alex were schooled on the latter instrument from the age of six. They continued their studies after the family moved to Pasadena in 1962.

Though Eddie — who never mastered sight reading — would perform at classical piano recitals, he sought something contemporary and took up the drums, while Alex began playing guitar. The two teenage musicians would ultimately switch off their instruments; Eddie claimed Eric Clapton and Jimmy Page, the respective guitar stars of Cream and Led Zeppelin, as his principal inspirations.

After high school years spent in local party bands, the brothers founded a new quartet — which they unwittingly named Genesis, ignorant of the English group’s existence — in 1972 with singer Roth, whose PA system they were renting for gigs, and bassist Mark Stone, who was replaced by Michael Anthony.

An attention-grabbing date at Gazzarri’s on the Sunset Strip by the rechristened Van Halen led to a demo session with Gene Simmons of KISS, who in the end opted out on working further with the band. However, as bassist Anthony recalled at the group’s Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction, the act was signed after Warner Bros. chief executive Mo Ostin and producer Ted Templeman caught the band at a 1977 show at the Starwood. As detailed in Templeman’s recent autobiography, Roth’s position in the band was tenuous, owing to his never-strong singing ability, and the producer considered bringing in Hagar even at that early stage. However, Roth — whose onstage antics, along with Eddie’s blazing guitar work, were the focal points of the band’s live show — retained his position.

Produced by Templeman, the band enjoyed a hit run of six albums with Roth as frontman…

In the wake of the extroverted Roth’s exit and Hagar’s arrival, some anticipated a downturn in Van Halen’s popularity, but the new vocalist’s flair for power balladry and Eddie Van Halen’s still-potent guitar attack thrust four albums to the sales pinnacle: 5150 (1986), OU812 (1988), For Unlawful Carnal Knowledge (1991) and Balance (1995).

However, the band never found similar chemistry with Cherone, and Van Halen only witnessed renewed life when it regrouped with Hagar and Roth in the new millennium.

Eddie Van Halen is survived by his second wife, the band’s former publicist Janie Liszewski, whom he married in 2009, and his son.

Read more at Variety.

23 Responses

  1. Van Halen…the first band to de-throne Kiss in my world…it was just undeniable…they were as good as Kiss! I said this awhile back…he was preparing for this…he was a good man…not just a great musician…he’s moved on.

    1. “they were as good as Kiss!” –Are you kidding??? LOL. Maybe to you they were as good as KISS. But to everyone else Van Halen was on a different level entirely. Talent-wise it was no contest. Van Halen was 1000 times better than KISS with far better songs and better albums, especially the David Lee Roth-era VH from 1978-85. KISS turned into a complete joke and was about merchandising instead of music.

    1. Myk,

      I was at that show, and left right after the Scorps. BUT, at least I saw VH on their 2007 reunion tour with Dave.


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