Eddie Van Halen Dead at 65

Eddie Van Halen, the iconic guitarist and one of the namesakes behind the hard rock band Van Halen, has died, TMZ reports and his son Wolf Van Halen confirmed. In 2019, it was reported that Van Halen was being treated for throat cancer. Eddie Van Halen was 65 years old.

Eddie Van Halen and his brother Alex Van Halen were born in Amsterdam. The sons of classical musician Jan van Halen, the Van Halens moved to Pasadena, California in the 1960s. Eddie picked up piano at an early age, though he was never able to read sheet music. When he picked up the guitar, he began to practice obsessively. He cited Cream, and specifically Eric Clapton, as a formative influence.

The brothers formed their first band around 1964, which changed names (including Genesis and Mammoth—both taken by other bands) and lineups multiple times. In 1972, they settled on the band name Van Halen and by 1974, their lineup had solidified with Eddie on guitar, Alex on drums, David Lee Roth as frontman, and Michael Anthony on bass and back-up vocals.

In 1976, after establishing themselves in L.A.’s club scene, Van Halen made a demo with Kiss’ Gene Simmons serving as producer. In 1977, they were signed by Warner Bros. Records, and that same year, they recorded their debut self-titled album. Released in 1978, Van Halen tracks like “Eruption” were a showcase for Eddie’s dynamic finger tapping guitar technique. The album featured several of their biggest songs, including “Runnin’ With the Devil,” their cover of the Kinks’ “You Really Got Me,” “Ain’t Talkin’ ‘Bout Love,” and “Jamie’s Crying.”

Outside of the music he made with Van Halen, Eddie was behind the iconic guitar solo in Michael Jackson’s 1982 monster hit “Beat It.” In a 2012 interview about the song, Eddie claimed that he not only played the solo, but also worked with producer Quincy Jones to change the entire middle section of the song. Eddie said he met Jackson shortly after he finished recording and warned him that he’d just reworked a huge portion of the song. “He gave it a listen, and he turned to me and went, ‘Wow, thank you so much for having the passion to not just come in and blaze a solo, but to actually care about the song, and make it better,’” Eddie said.

David Lee Roth remained with Van Halen through the release of multiple albums, including their diamond-selling 1984 album. The LP featured “Jump”—the band’s first and only No. 1 single—as well as “Panama” and “Hot for Teacher.” Dave departed the band later that year amid tensions within the group. Van Halen continued as a band, hiring Sammy Hagar to fill in through the rest of the 1980s and the majority of the 1990s. Gary Cherone from the band Extreme fronted Van Halen for one album—1998’s Van Halen III.

Van Halen never fully broke up, though Eddie Van Halen’s health troubles occasionally forced the band into hiatus. In 1999, he had hip replacement surgery, and in 2000, he had part of his tongue removed as treatment for tongue cancer. He was declared cancer free in 2002. Years later, in 2009, he required surgery in his left hand.

After reuniting for a tour with Sammy Hagar earlier in the decade, Van Halen welcomed David Lee Roth back into the band in 2007. It was a somewhat unexpected reunion, as previous attempts and rumors of a Van Halen reunion with David Lee Roth and fallen through due to tensions between Eddie and Dave. A high-profile onstage reunion and near-immediate falling out at the 1996 VMAs, for example, made it seem like a reunion with the singer would never happen. “We have always hated each other, right up until the last phone call,” David Lee Roth said of his relationship with Eddie and Alex Van Halen in 2019.

David Lee Roth fronted the band for a 2007 U.S. tour alongside Eddie, Alex, and Eddie’s son Wolfgang Van Halen (who replaced Michael Anthony on bass). The band was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 2007, though Eddie Van Halen and the other active members of Van Halen skipped the ceremony. Sammy Hagar and Michael Anthony attended on the band’s behalf. In 2012, the band released A Different Kind of Truth—their first album with David Lee Roth in nearly three decades. Van Halen last toured, with David Lee Roth fronting the band, in 2015.

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