Eddie Van Halen dies at 65

Legendary rock and roll icon loses battle to throat cancer

Rachel Patz, Staff Writer

On Oct. 6, 2020, Eddie Van Halen — legendary guitarist, songwriter and co-founder of the infamous rock band Van Halen — passed away after losing a hard-fought battle with throat cancer.

His death was confirmed on Twitter in a heart-rending post by his son, Wolf Van Halen.

Through his legendary guitar-playing, Van Halen earned the respect of his fellow musicians, showing in the numerous tributes to both his skill and character that have rapidly sprouted since his passing. Artists, from Ozzy Osbourne to Metallica’s Kirk Hammett, have expressed their admiration and awe at Van Halen’s skill, and attempted to give voice to their sorrow over his death.

Despite front-manning one of the world’s most famous rock bands, destined to achieve MTV stardom and multi-platinum sales, Van Halen himself had humble beginnings.

Born in Nijmegen, Netherlands, in 1955, the man deemed “The Mozart of Rock Guitar,” by Mötley Crüe co-founder Nikki Sixxnever knew how to read music, starting his musical career by improvising during classical piano recitals. After his family moved to California, he won the annual piano competition held at Long Beach City College four years in a row.

In 1972, the foundation was laid for the group that would become the legendary Van Halen band, with Eddie on guitar, his brother Alex on drums, Anthony Michael playing bass, and David Lee Roth providing vocals.

Van Halen albums: Your guide to the very best | Louder
The full lineup circa 1984

The band grew in popularity throughout the 1970s and ’80s, creating smash-hits “Dance the Night Away” and “You Really Got Me,” but it was not until their sixth album “1984” that the band reached ubiquitous success.

Unfortunately, as the band Van Halen reached its critical and commercial golden age, tensions between the band members escalated, culminating in Roth’s replacement by lead-singer and guitarist Sammy Hagar.

Though four multi-platinum albums followed Roth’s departure, the band’s troubles were far from over. After Hagar was replaced by Gary Cherone, the band began to fall apart. Cherone recorded a single, unsuccessful album with Van Halen before leaving, and the entire band agreed to take a hiatus.

The next handful of years were a struggle for Van Halen, both the band and the individual. Partly due to his increasing drug and alcohol problems, Eddie separated from his first wife, Valerie Bertinelli, in 2001, and was diagnosed with cancer shortly afterwards.

Van Halen entered a rehabilitation center in 2007 and became sober in 2008. The band remained estranged until 2012, when Roth rejoined and Van Halen’s son Wolf was added to the group as bassist for the release of their first commercially successful album in years, “A Different Kind of Truth.” The hit album was followed by two shows at the Hollywood Bowl in 2015 and a seemingly promised return to superstardom for the band. Shortly after, however, Eddie donated his infamous “Frankenstein” guitar to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, putting to rest any notion of the band’s further reunion.

Edward Lodewijk "Eddie" Van Halen | "Frankenstein," composite electric guitar | The Met
Eddie Van Halen’s Legendary Guitar “Frankestein” (Metropolitan Museum of Art)

Eddie Van Halen’s contribution to the world of rock and roll was prolific and his reputation as a generational talent at guitar playing is undisputed. Yet, when Gene Simmons — friend and producer of Van Halen — remembered his companion, he did not focus on Eddie’s guitar-playing abilities; instead, he spoke of Eddie’s “gentle soul.”

“The first image that hit me — so help me God — was Eddie grinning from ear to ear with that big, huge, million dollar smile,” Simmons told People in an interview after Eddie’s death. “Every once in a while, God gets it right. He did a good job with Eddie Van Halen, I’ll tell you that. He was a far better man than I’ll ever be.”