EDDIE VAN HALEN Legendary Rock Guitarist, Dies at 65

Posted: October 6, 2020 in MUSIC
Eddie Van Halen performing on stage, 1978.

Van Halen guitarist Eddie Van Halen has died at age 65 after a battle with cancer. The Van Halen founder had his wife Janine and his son Wolf by his side during his final moments at St.John’s Hospital in Santa Monica

With his distinct solos, Eddie Van Halen fueled the ultimate California party band and helped knock disco off the charts starting in the late 1970s with his band’s self-titled debut album and then with the blockbuster record “1984,” which contains the classics “Jump,” “Panama” and “Hot for Teacher.”

Van Halen is among the top 20 best-selling artists of all time and the band was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2007. Rolling Stone magazine put Eddie Van Halen at No. 8 in its list of the 100 greatest guitarists.

The news was confirmed by his son Wolfgang. “I can’t believe I’m having to write this, but my father, Edward Lodewijk Van Halen, has lost his long and arduous battle with cancer this morning,” he wrote “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. I love you so much.

Van Halen’s health woes began in 2000 when he was treated for tongue cancer. Initially, the guitarist, who traditionally didn’t talk about his well-being, would only admit to having undergone an outpatient procedure to prevent cancer. He later revealed that a third of his tongue was removed in surgery and was declared cancer free in 2002.

That status would not last forever. The cancer returned in 2011, this time spreading to his esophagus. Soon afterward, the musician was forced to have emergency surgery due to a severe – though unrelated – case of the digestive disorder diverticulitis.

Though Van Halen was once a heavy smoker, he blamed a different habit for his diagnosis: “I used metal picks – they’re brass and copper – which I always held in my mouth, in the exact place where I got the tongue cancer,” he told Billboard magazine in 2015. “Plus, I basically live in a recording studio that’s filled with electromagnetic energy. So, that’s one theory. I mean, I was smoking and doing a lot of drugs and a lot of everything. But at the same time, my lungs are totally clear. This is just my own theory, but the doctors say it’s possible.”

In more recent years, Van Halen undertook various nontraditional procedures and even an experimental radioactive rinse in an attempt to keep the cancer at bay.

The rocker’s declining health had been the subjects of many rumors, whispers which were amplified by his band’s inactivity. A photo in which Van Halen appears to have a shaved head and gaunt look circulated in June 2019, further stoking fans’ fears.

Van Halen was born in the Netherlands, but moved to Southern California with his family at the age of seven. Raised in a musical household, the future rock star initially learned the piano before discovering the guitar.

Great shot of a Van Halen stage set-up we were rigging . Birmingham Odeon
22nd June 1980 

Eddie and his older brother Alex formed their first band, the Broken Combs, in 1964. As the group continued to evolve, it adopted several other names, including the Trojan Rubber Co., Genesis and Mammoth. The band, which at this point had welcomed singer David Lee Roth and bassist Micheal Anthony changed their name to Van Halen in 1974.

Van Halen made a name for themselves in the Los Angeles music scene, playing everything from house parties and school dances, to shows at the legendary Whiskey a Go Go. Though an initial demo tape, recorded with Gene Simmons , did not generate interest, the band eventually signed their first record deal in 1977.

Released February. 10th, 1978, Van Halen’s self-titled debut album launched the band into stardom. Tracks like “Runnin’ With the Devil,” “Jamie’s Cryin’” and a cover the Kinks’ “You Really Got Me” became worldwide hits. Chief to Van Halen’s sound was Eddie’s guitar work, a distinct blend of aggression and braggadocio. His style would help usher in a golden age of guitar playing and became the high-water mark to which other ax wielders were measured. Meanwhile Van Halen would go on to sell more than 10 million copies, becoming one of the biggest debuts of all time.

Over the next four-plus decades, Van Halen would cement themselves as one of the biggest rock bands in the world. Sold-out tours, millions of adoring fans and induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame only begins to explain the magnitude of their legacy. A string of multi-platinum albums reflected their massive commercial appeal, with the group’s seminal LP “1984″ ranking among the best-selling of the ‘80s. Even as the band endured line-up changes, most notably the decade-long period from 1986-96 in which Sammy Hagar replaced Roth, Eddie remained the dependable engine of the Van Halen machine.

Family was also paramount to Eddie. In 1982, his father, Jan, recorded clarinet on the band’s version of “Big Bad Bill (Is Sweet William Now).” The Van Halen patriarch had previously been a musician in his own right, performing in groups throughout the Netherlands and U.S. before instilling the musical bug in his sons. Even though the jazzy track was a departure in sound for the band, it became a fan favourite.

Years later, Eddie welcomed another family member into the band, his son, Wolfgang. The bassist was only 15 when he replaced Anthony in the group, touring with Van Halen and contributing to their 2012 album A Different Kind Of Truth. Eddie was married to Wolfgang’s mother, actress Valerie Bertinelli , for 26 years. The couple divorced in 2007; the guitarist later married actress Janie Liszewski in 2009.

Eddie’s contributions to music were not limited to Van Halen. The guitarist famously played the solo on Micheal Jackson’s “Beat It” co-wrote tracks with Black Sabbath and created a line of guitars and accessories.

Tony Iommi from Black Sabbath said he was “devastated” and posted the picture of the pair. “He fought a long and hard battle with his cancer right to the very end,” said the guitarist. “Eddie was one of a very special kind of person, a really great friend. Rest In Peace my dear friend till we meet again.”

Beach Boys singer Brian Wilson also paid tribute, recalling the band’s early impact on the Los Angeles scene. “I just heard about Eddie Van Halen and I feel terrible about it,” tweeted Wilson. “Eddie was such a great guitarist and I remember how big Van Halen was, especially here in L.A. Love and Mercy to Eddie’s family & friends.”

Lenny Kravitz added simply: “Legendary guitar and musical innovator Edward Van Halen. 1955-2020. Heaven will be electric tonight.” Still, if a man’s legacy is best defined by the influence he has on others, then it’s Eddie’s fellow musicians who can encapsulate what he meant to the world.

Aerosmith’s Joe Perry has stated that Van Halen “reinvented guitar playing,” while Jeff Beck praised his “amazing technique.”

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