Eddie Van Halen, one of rock’s greatest guitarists, died today from a variety of cancer-related causes at St. Johns Hospital in Santa Monica today. He was 65.
His son Wolfgang announced his death on Twitter this afternoon. He wrote, “He was the best father I could every ask for. Every moment I’ve shared with him off and on stage was a gift.” Valerie Bertinelli, Eddie’s ex-wife and Wolfgang’s mother, tweeted 20 broken heart emojis responding to the tweet.
He’ll be remembered for his fiery performances and unique personal style on the instrument and as a music innovator. He pioneered two-hand finger tapping and harmonics on the guitar and held three patents for musical inventions.
Eddie played on two chart-topping singles during his lifetime — Michael Jackson’s “Beat It” in 1983 and Van Halen’s “Jump” in 1984. However, he topped the rock radio airplay chart 13 times with Van Halen, whose place in the pantheon of classic rock bands is assured.
Eddie once told Rolling Stone that his shyness led him to drink and drugs. He admitted that he “always got hammered to be able to cope. I have zero social skills, and I don’t know how to act, so I get drunk. And then I make a real ass out of myself.” He struggled with cocaine and alcohol throughout his life, going to rehab numerous times, usually when it interfered with his work.
He also had to overcome a number of debilitating physical problems, including a hip replacement in 1999, emergency surgery for diverticulitis and surgery to remove a third of his cancerous tongue in 2001.
In 1981, Eddie married One Day at a Time actress Valerie Bertinelli. Their son Wolfgang was born in 1991 and he followed his dad’s musical footsteps as he joined Van Halen on bass in 2006. Eddie and Valerie split in 2005. He married publicist Janie Liszewski four years later.
Born in Holland to a Dutch musician father and Indonesian mother, Eddie’s first instrument was classical piano. He and older brother Alex both studied the instrument for about a decade and also learned violin. His father moved the family to Pasadena, California when Eddie was seven and the brothers played piano for tips on board the ship that brought them.
After getting his first guitar at 12, Eddie taught himself to play. He and Alex started a number of bands together in high school, with Eddie on guitar and Alex on drums. While at Pasadena City College they started Mammoth, which morphed into Van Halen with David Lee Roth on vocals and Michael Anthony on bass.
Eddie Van Halen became a guitar hero with the release of the band’s self-titled debut album in 1978. Guitar fans were particularly knocked out by the instrumental “Eruption,” a showcase for his two-hand tapping technique. Over the course of six albums with Roth, Van Halen produced such radio hits as “Runnin’ With the Devil,” “Dance the Night Away,” “So This Is Love?,” “Oh, Pretty Woman,” “I’ll Wait,” “Panama,” “Hot for Teacher” and “Jump.”
Roth left Van Halen to go solo in 1985 and was replaced by Sammy Hagar. The Van Hagar years, as they came to be known, proved to be the band’s commercial peak. Starting with 5150, all four albums they recorded with Hagar went to number-one, as did a succession of rock radio singles that included “Why Can’t This Be Love,” “Poundcake,” “Don’t Tell Me (What Love Can Do)” and “Humans Being.”
Eddie did his final tour with Van Halen in 2015 and made a few subsequent public appearances, mostly at the annual NAMM music merchandisers’ expo, at which he’d unveil new products in his EVH Wolfgang gear line. The band’s — and his — last show was at the Hollywood Bowl in L.A. on October 4th, 2015.
Here’s a timeline of Eddie Van Halen’s life and career highlights:
Edward Lodwijk van Halen was born on January 26th, 1955 in Amsterdam, Holland.
His family emigrated to the U.S. in 1962 and changed their name to Van Halen — with a capital V.
He got his first guitar in 1967, a $100 Teisco Del Ray electric from Sears.
Soon after singer David Lee Roth joined the Van Halens’ college band Mammoth in 1973, they changed its name to Van Halen.
Gene Simmons of KISS saw Van Halen at the Starwood in L.A. in 1976 and recorded demos with them, but couldn’t get them signed.
A year later, Warner Brothers A&R man Ted Templeman signed them and became their producer.
Van Halen’s self-titled debut album was released on February 10th, 1978. Despite only peaking at number-19 on the Billboard 200, it has gone on to sell over 10-million copies.
In 1980, Eddie met One Day at a Time actress Valerie Bertinelli backstage after a show in Shreveport, Louisiana and they married on April 11th, 1981.
In 1982, Van Halen’s cover of Roy Orbison’s “Oh, Pretty Woman” became the first of the band’s 13 number-one songs on Billboard’s rock radio chart.
In 1982, Eddie recorded the guitar solo for Michael Jackson’s “Beat It.” He did it as a favor, asked for no money and never received any.
In 1983, Eddie made another rare guest appearance outside Van Halen, playing lead guitar on Queen guitarist Brian May and Friends’ Star Fleet Project EP.
Van Halen headlined the middle day of Steve Wozniak’s enormous US Festival in San Bernardino, California on Memorial Day weekend in 1983.
In 1984, “Jump,” with Eddie playing synthesizer as well as guitar, became Van Halen’s only number-one on the Billboard Hot 100 pop singles chart.
Eddie’s only child, Wolfgang Van Halen, was born on March 16th, 1991. He would replace Michael Anthony as Van Halen’s bassist in 2006.
After an argument with Eddie, Sammy Hagar left Van Halen in 1995.
David Lee Roth joined the then-three Van Halen members as presenters at the 1996 MTV VMAs. It didn’t go well, and Roth and Eddie nearly came to blows backstage afterwards.
Later in 1996, Van Halen named Gary Cherone of Extreme as their new singer. He made one album with them and left the band in 1999.
Also in 1996, Van Halen placed two songs on the soundtrack of the hit movie Twister — “Humans Being” and the instrumental “Respect the Wind,” which was credited to Edward and Alex Van Halen and remains Alex’s only recording not released under the Van Halen name.
In 1999, Eddie underwent hip replacement surgery.
In 2000, he was diagnosed with tongue cancer and had surgery to remove a third of his tongue.
He was declared cancer free in 2002.
Eddie and Valerie filed for divorce on December 6th, 2005.
Van Halen was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame on March 12th, 2007. Eddie did not attend. In fact, only Hagar and Anthony were present for it.
In 2007, after a couple of false starts due to Eddie’s rehab stints for alcoholism, David Lee Roth rejoined Van Halen and they began a tour that September.
Eddie married publicist Janie Liszewski at his Studio City, California home on June 27th, 2009.
What would turn out to be Eddie’s last studio album with Van Halen, A Different Kind of Truth, was released on February 7th, 2012.
Van Halen’s final tour with Eddie took place in 2015, with their last show coming at the Hollywood Bowl in L.A. on October 4th of that year. “Jump” was the final song he played.