Eddie Van Halen, guitar hero to generations of players, has died at age 65 of throat cancer, his son Wolfgang Van Halen announced via Twitter on Tuesday. The seminal rock guitarist had been battling cancer for a number of years.
Known for his larger-than-life stage presence as a founding member of Van Halen, alongside his two-handed tapping guitar technique and famous “Frankenstrat” guitar, Eddie Van Halen’s playing came to define the shifting sound of rock and roll as the genre moved through the 1970s and into the 1980s.
The Amsterdam-born Eddie and his brother, drummer Alex Van Halen, formed Van Halen in 1972 and remained the two constant members of the often-tumultuous outfit. The group wouldn’t cut its self-titled debut album until 1978, though the record immediately established the still-unknown band as a tour-de-force in the changing world of rock music.
With the glam rock stylings of frontman David Lee Roth and the searing guitar work of Eddie, the group took the United States by storm with hits like “Runnin’ With The Devil”, their reimagining of the Kinks classic “You Really Got Me”, “Ain’t Talkin’ ’bout Love”, “Jamie’s Cryin'”, and the instrumental “Eruption”, all featured on the band’s debut record.
Van Halen – “Eruption” (Live)
Though Van Halen enjoyed great commercial success, the band often did not provide a stable environment for its members. In 1985, Roth would leave the group amidst mounting tension with Eddie, prompting the band to bring on Sammy Hagar. From 1985–1996, Hagar sang for the group as their popularity waned and the bad blood continued to boil over in public. The original lineup shared the stage for the first time in 11 years when they appeared together at the MTV Video Music Awards in 1996.
The reunion, however, was short lived. The band briefly came together to record new tracks for the Best Of greatest hits album. Before long, the animosities built up once again as substance abuse and egos were rampant in the group, and Roth left once again, Hagar had gone solo, and the group brought on Gary Cherone for a three year period in the late 1990s.
It was not until 2007, over 20 years since Roth had left the band, that the classic Van Halen lineup reunited for good and hit the road. The dynamic duo of Eddie Van Halen and David Lee Roth were together again, with Eddie’s son, Wolfgang, sharing the stage with his father and playing the bass. The group toured frequently since reuniting in 2007 and even put out a new studio album, A Different Kind Of Truth in 2012.
Eddie Van Halen began receiving treatment for tongue cancer in 2000. In his autobiography, Red, Hagar claimed that Van Halen told him the cancer originated from Eddie’s habit of putting his guitar pick in his mouth while utilizing his two-handed tapping technique. Hagar, however, surmised that it was related to Van Halen’s years of drug and alcohol abuse. Prior to the band’s reunion in 2007, Eddie Van Halen entered rehab and claimed to have been sober since 2008.
In 2019, it was revealed that Eddie Van Halen had been secretly battling throat cancer for the previous five years. He is survived by his son, Wolfgang, and his wife, Janie Liszewski.
See Wolfgang Van Halen’s announcement of his father’s death below. RIP Eddie Van Halen.
— Wolf Van Halen (@WolfVanHalen) October 6, 2020