Eddie Van Halen, guitarist for rock band Van Halen, dies aged 65
Eddie Van Halen, considered one of rock music’s greatest guitar players and a founding member of the hugely successful rock band named after him and his drummer brother, has died of cancer at the age of 65.
- Eddie Van Halen had long battled mouth cancer
- He and his brother co-founded Van Halen in 1974, going on to sell tens of millions of albums
- Eddie Van Halen created some of the most distinctive guitar riffs in rock history
His son, Wolf Van Halen, confirmed the news with a statement on Twitter.
“He was the best father I could ever ask for,” he wrote.
“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 the loss.”
Van Halen lost one-third of his tongue to a cancer that eventually spread to his oesophagus.
He was married twice, to actress Valerie Bertinelli from 1981 to 2007 and then stuntwoman-turned-publicist Janie Liszewski, who he wed in 2009.
From high school band to rock hall of fame
Born in Amsterdam, the Netherlands, in 1955, Van Halen’s family emigrated to the United States in 1962.
His father was a big band clarinettist who rarely found work after coming to the US, and his mother was a maid who had dreams of her sons being classical pianists.
The Van Halens shared a house with three other families.
Eddie Van Halen and his brother Alex joined with vocalist David Lee Roth and bassist Michael Anthony to form Van Halen in 1974, in Pasadena, California.
They were members of rival high school bands and then attended Pasadena City College together.
With his distinct solos, Eddie Van Halen fuelled 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.
This was followed by the blockbuster record 1984, which contains the classics Jump, Panama and Hot for Teacher.
Van Halen recorded 12 studio albums across five decades, selling tens of millions of copies.
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.
Reluctant guitarist to one of the greatest of all time
Rolling Stone magazine put Eddie Van Halen at eighth in its list of the 100 greatest guitarists.
He initially was not interested in playing the instrument but took it up at the behest of his brother.
“I said, ‘go ahead, take my drums. I’ll play your damn guitar’,” he told the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History in 2015.
He was a relentless experimenter who would solder different parts from different guitar-makers, including Gibson and Fender.
He created his own graphic design for his guitars by adding tape to the instruments and then spray-painting them. He said his influences were Eric Clapton and Jimi Hendrix.
Eddie Van Halen was something of a musical contradiction. He taught himself to play almost any instrument, but he could not read music.
He was a classically trained pianist who also created some of the most distinctive guitar riffs in rock history.
Eddie Van Halen also played guitar on one of the biggest singles of the 1980s — Michael Jackson’s Beat It.
His solo lasted all of 20 seconds and took only a half an hour to record. He did it for free, as a favour to producer Quincy Jones, while the rest of his Van Halen bandmates were out of town.
For much of his career, Eddie Van Halen wrote and experimented with sounds while drunk or high or both.
He revealed that he would stay in his hotel room drinking vodka and snorting cocaine while playing into a tape recorder.
“I didn’t drink to party,” Van Halen told Billboard.
“Alcohol and cocaine were private things to me. I would use them for work. The blow keeps you awake and the alcohol lowers your inhibitions. I’m sure there were musical things I would not have attempted were I not in that mental state.”
He had been sober since 2008.