One of rock 'n' roll's singular and most gifted guitarists, Eddie Van Halen, has died. He was 65.
Van Halen's son, Wolf, confirmed the news on Tuesday.
"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 on Twitter.
"He was the best father I could ever ask for. Every moment I've shared with him on stage and off stage was a gift," Wolf continued. "My heart is broken and I don't think I'll ever fully recover from this loss."
"I love you so much, Pop," he concluded.
Eddie Van Halen's ex-wife, actress Valerie Bertinelli, shared their son's message on her own account along with breaking heart emojis. The pair was married for 20 years.
According to TMZ, citing sources, Van Halen died at a Santa Monica hospital on Tuesday. Wolf, his brother Alex, and his wife, Janie, were by his side.
“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 said at the time. “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.”
Van Halen was a guitar virtuoso, whose blinding speed, control and innovation propelled his band, Van Halen, into one of hard rock’s biggest groups, fueled the unmistakable fiery solo in Michael Jackson’s hit “Beat It” and elevated him to the status of rock god.
With his distinct solos, Eddie Van Halen was the engine behind 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 & Roll Hall of Fame in 2007. Rolling Stone magazine put Eddie Van Halen at No. 8 in its list of the 100 greatest guitarists.
Van Halen started his eponymous group in 1974 with his brother Alex on drums, bass player Michael Anthony, and the flamboyant lead singer David Lee Roth.
They were members of rival high school bands and then attended Pasadena City College together. They combined to form the band Mammoth, but then changed to Van Halen after discovering there was another band called Mammoth.
Their 1978 release “Van Halen” opened with a blistering “Runnin’ With the Devil” and then Eddie Van Halen showed off his astonishing skills in the next song, “Eruption,” a furious 1:42 minute guitar solo that swoops and soars like a deranged bird. The album also contained a cover of the Kinks’ “You Really Got Me” and “Ain’t Talkin’ ’Bout Love.”
Mike McCready of Pearl Jam told Rolling Stone magazine that listening to Van Halen’s “Eruption” was like hearing Mozart for the first time. “He gets sounds that aren’t necessarily guitar sounds — a lot of harmonics, textures that happen just because of how he picks.”
Van Halen released albums on a yearly timetable — “Van Halen II” (1979), “Women and Children First” (1980), “Fair Warning” (1981) and “Diver Down” (1982) — until the monumental “1984,” which hit No. 2 on the Billboard 200 album charts (only behind Michael Jackson’s “Thriller”). Rolling Stone ranked “1984” No. 81 on its list of the 100 Greatest Albums of the 1980s.
Soon after the "1984" tour ended, strains between Roth and the band erupted and Roth quit. The group then recruited Sammy Hagar as lead singer —some critics called the new formulation “Van Hagar” — and the band went on to score its first No. 1 album with “5150,” More studio albums followed, including “OU812,” “For Unlawful Carnal Knowledge” and “Balance.” Hit singles included “Why Can’t This Be Love” and “When It’s Love.”
Hagar was ousted in 1996 and former Extreme singer Gary Cherone stepped in for the album “Van Halen III,” a stumble that didn’t lead to another album and but did lead to the quick departure of Cherone. Roth would eventually return in 2007 and team up with the Van Halen brothers and Wolfgang Van Halen, Eddie’s son, on bass for a tour, the album “A Different Kind of Truth” and the 2015 album “Tokyo Dome Live in Concert.”
In a February 2020 interview with the Minneapolis Star Tribune, lead singer Roth was noncommittal about Eddie Van Halen’s condition. “You know what I know,” he told the paper. “Ed, God bless him, may have a fair amount of time ahead of him, but going out on the road is an unforgiving task. It kills people.”
Reminiscing on the band’s start, Roth said, “I remember the days when we would stand around and say, ‘Let’s go have a cigarette.’ And that’s what we did: Four guys having one cigarette. I remember those days. They go by fast, so enjoy them while you’re in them.”
Eddie Van Halen was born in Amsterdam and his family immigrated to California in 1962 when he was 7. His father was a big band clarinetist who rarely found work after coming to the U.S., and their mother was a maid who had dreams of her sons being classical pianists.
“We showed up here with the equivalent of $50 and a piano,” Van Halen told The Associated Press in 2015. “We came halfway around the world without money, without a set job, no place to live and couldn’t even speak the language.”
At one point, Eddie got a drum set, which his older brother coveted. “I never wanted to play guitar,” he confessed at a talk at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History in 2015. But his brother was good at the drums, so Eddie gave into his brother’s wishes: “I said, ‘Go ahead, take my drums. I’ll play your damn guitar.’”
The Associated Press contributed to this report