Eddie Van Halen, the guitar ace whose acrobatic playing and pop-minded composition anchored the hard rock band that bore his last name for over 40 years, has died of cancer, his son and bandmate Wolfgang announced on social media today (October 6). He was 65.
“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,” the message read. “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, Pop.”
Wolfgang’s mother, actress Valerie Bertinelli, replied with a series of broken-heart emojis. She was married to Eddie from 1981 to 2007.
From the beginning, Van Halen was always a family affair. Eddie and his older brother Alex began playing music together as kids in 1960s California, where their family moved from Amsterdam; at first, Eddie was on drums and Alex was the guitarist, but they eventually switched instruments and, in the early ’70s, settled into the first big lineup of Van Halen with Michael Anthony on bass and charismatic wild man David Lee Roth as frontperson.
You know this Van Halen. This is the group behind late-’70s/early ’80s iconic rock-radio staples “Runnin’ with the Devil,” “Dance the Night Away,” “Hot for Teacher,” “Panama,” and what became their first-ever No. 1 single, “Jump.” Eddie wrote that song’s iconic peppy synthesizer line, though he was most well-known for his mastery of the electric guitar. The iconic second track on Van Halen’s 1978 self-titled debut, “Eruption,” is two minutes of Eddie’s face-melting virtuosic shredding, dive-bombing, and two-hand tapping — the kind of exciting and flashy prowess that’s still the chase of every young rocker learning through their first practice amp. It’s also what you hear on the guitar solo in Michael Jackson’s equally iconic “Beat It,” which Eddie performed.
But at the heart of the Van Halen sound, even as Roth departed and was replaced for a string of more pop-oriented albums by singers Sammy Hagar and also Gary Cherone, was Eddie’s ability to craft a memorable progression via chunky guitar chords, synth lines, or striking piano melodies. It’s what kept the band touring through the decades with a regularly re-arranging cadre of lead vocalists, including intermittent returns by both Hagar and Roth. In 2006, Eddie and Alex replaced longtime bassist Anthony with Wolfgang; this remained the core lineup until a hiatus in 2015.
Personally, Eddie also battled cancer. After a bout of tongue cancer in 2000, he underwent surgery and was declared cancer-free two years later. But last year, reports emerged that he’d been hospitalized for throat cancer, which he’d apparently been suffering from since 2014.
He leaves behind his wife, Janie Liszewski, as well as Wolfgang. Fans and fellow musicians from around the globe have paid tribute to Eddie on social media.
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