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EDDIE VAN HALEN,
1955-2020

Eddie Van Halen, the virtuoso guitarist whose namesake band dominated hard rock from the 1980s into the ‘90s and whose style has influenced several generations of guitarists, died Tuesday of cancer. He was 65.

His son, Wolfgang, announced his father’s death in a tweet,  writing “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 was the best father I could ever ask for. Every moment I’ve shared with him on and off stage was a gift.”

A rock god to generations of young guitarists, Van Halen developed his unique style on the stages of Southern California in the 1970s, often playing with his back to the audience to hide his inventive tricks—and alterations in his gear—that would have a significant impact on rock music for years.

Beyond his dexterous mix of trademark fretboard taps and dazzling runs, he was a tinkerer and inventor as well who mixed and matched elements of guitars early on and, once established, had numerous guitar makers make custom instruments to help him further enhance his trademark sound, Fender among them. He also held patents for a guitar tailpiece and a headstock.

Born in the Netherlands and raised in Pasadena, Eddie and his brother Alex studied classical piano at an early age; eventually they both moved on to the drums and guitar. As high schoolers, with Eddie on guitar emulating Eric Clapton and Jimmy Page, and Alex on drums they started playing around Pasadena with Roth and, eventually, Anthony.

Mo Ostin and producer Ted Templeman signed the band after seeing them perform at the Starwood in 1977.

Van Halen’s self-titled 1978 debut for Warner Bros. peaked at #19 but would eventually sell more than 10m copies. Of its 11 tracks, six would become VH standards: “Ain’t Talkin’ ‘bout Love,” “Runnin’ With the Devil,” their cover of The Kinks’ “You Really Got Me,” “Ice Cream Man,” “Jamie’s Cryin’” and the instrumental that served as an explosive introduction to the guitarist’s talents, “Eruption.”

Fourteen of their albums would go Top 10 with five of them hitting #1: 1986’s 5150; 1988’s OU812; 1991’s For Unlawful Carnal Knowledge; 1995’s Balance; and 1996’s Best of Volume 1. The band had a lone #1 single, the 10-million-selling “Jump.” The band took collective credit on their songs; Van Halen was responsible for the riffs. 

The band won the Grammy for Best Hard Rock Performance for For Unlawful Carnal Knowledge, and was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2007. Van Halen placed #8 on Rolling Stone’s 2015 list of the 100 greatest guitarists and #1 on Guitar World's 2012 list.

Eddie and Alex were the only mainstays in the band that featured lead vocalists David Lee Roth (1972-1985, 1996,  2007-present), Sammy Hagar (1986-1996, 2004) and Gary Cherone (1996-1999). Wolfgang Van Halen replaced Michael Anthony on bass in 2007.

Regardless of the singer, Van Halen was one of the top concert draws in the U.S.and internationally, playing arenas from 1978 forward. They played stadiums on their Monsters of Rock tours in 1984 and 1988.   

While most of his guitar playing on record was limited to his band efforts, his epic solo on Michael Jackson’s “Beat It” helped Jackson cross over with rock audiences. The then-fledgling MTV had no black artists in its video rotations, arguing that it was a rock music channel. Hearing the Van Halen solo, they requested a video from Jackson, who tripped them up by providing a video of “Billie Jean,” which led to MTV expanding its playlists.   

Eddie Van Halen had multiple health issues over the last two decades that forced him to take breaks from touring and recording. He had hip replacement surgery in 1999; his heavy smoking led to the removal of part of his tongue in 2000;and in 2012, he had emergency surgery for diverticulitis. He had suffered from throat cancer for five years.

"During his legendary career, Grammy Award winner Eddie Van Halen contributed to some of the world's most iconic music," reads a quote from Recording Academy boss Harvey Mason Jr. His explosive guitar playing and approach to the musical process solidified him as an undeniable force in his field and forever established his place as a true guitar hero. The world is lucky to have witnessed Eddie's genius as a guitarist, and we know he will influence and shape rock music indefinitely."

“Ed was an idol of mine growing up," notes publisher Richard Stumpf. "To get to call him a client and friend over the past six years has been mind-blowing. I remember two distinct things that to me exemplified how Ed was much more than a guitar god, but also someone who was incredibly generous with his time and money. First was in business. He donated a six-figure sync fee entirely to the Mr Holland’s Opus Foundation. Not even a blink.  He just said ‘Rich, if they want that song they have to pay the fee to the charity.’  The next was personal.  My young son CJ was going to get to play goalie in a shoot-out at MSG between periods of a Rangers game. He was of course excited and nervous. I told Ed about it and he said ‘Let me talk to him.’  He chatted on the phone with CJ for about 10 minutes and let him know that he too performed at MSG and it was gonna be a great experience that he’d never forget. That really gave CJ the confidence he needed to do an outstanding job that day. The world will miss Ed. I’m gutted for his family. I’m lucky to have had the chance to intersect with him for a few laps around the sun and call him a friend. Keep it loud up there Ed."

 

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