Eddie Van Halen, rock guitar god, dead of throat cancer at 65

Eddie Van Halen (Eddie Marano)

Rock legend Eddie Van Halen has died. He was 65.

The iconic guitarist and founder of his eponymous rock band lost his battle with throat cancer. His son Wolfgang shared a touching memorial on Tuesday, confirming the heartbreaking news.

“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,” said Wolfgang, 29, who was the band’s bassist since 2006.

“My heart is broken and I don’t think I’ll ever fully recover from this loss. I love you so much, Pop.”

His wife Jane was by his side as the cancer spread throughout his body. He passed away in Santa Monica on Tuesday, according to TMZ.

Eddie was born in the Netherlands, and came to the US in 1962. Ten years later, he and his brother formed the band along with vocalist David Lee Roth and bassist Michael Anthony. Over a span of nearly five decades, they went on to break barriers in rock music, selling 80 million records worldwide and joining the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2007. Over the years, their hits, including “Jump,” “Hot for Teacher,” “Running with the Devil” and “Panama” shot them to multi-platinum success.

Despite growing up in a family of musicians, he never learned to read music.

“I don’t know s – – t about scales or music theory,” he told Rolling Stone in 1980. “I don’t want to be seen as the fastest guitar in town, ready and willing to gun down the competition. All I know is that rock & roll guitar, like blues guitar, should be melody, speed, and taste, but more important, it should have emotion. I just want my guitar playing to make people feel something: happy, sad, even horny.”

A flamboyant showman who started out as a pianist and wanted to play drums, Eddie quickly made a name for himself as an innovative guitarist, using advanced amps, pedals and effects to elevate the genre of rock and roll. After forming, the band produced about a dozen studio albums, though they were plagued with the usual on-and-off tumult of any decent rock group.

Van Halen became an MTV-certified household name by 1984, when their album MCMLXXXIV shot to number 2 on the Billboard 200 and was on heavy rotation in car radios everywhere.

His influence in music spanned generations, and he’s widely recognized for popularizing the two-handed tapping method, in which both hands are used to tap on the fretboard.

In a statement, the Recording Academy saluted Grammy-winning Eddie for his contributions “to some of the world’s most iconic music.”

“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,” said academy chair & interim president/CEO Harvey Mason Jr. “The world is lucky to have witnessed Eddie’s genius as a guitarist, and we know he will influence and shape rock music indefinitely.”

Eddie’s career was marked by experimentation and collaboration, including when he played a solo on Michael Jackson’s “Beat It” in 1982, and contributed to albums by musicians such as Queen’s Brian May, LL Cool J and Sammy Hagar — who would later join the band from 1985 through 1996, followed by a two-year reunion in 2003.

“Heartbroken and speechless. My love to the family,” Hagar tweeted Tuesday after learning of Eddie’s death.

Besides being a guitar legend — and a patent-holder, too, for his guitar-tapping method — Eddie also was legendary for a quirky piece of rock folklore. In the 1980s Van Halen inserted a clause into a tour rider that required a candy bowl containing M&Ms be placed backstage — but containing “absolutely no brown ones,” in order to make sure promoters were paying attention to the pages-long document. 

Eddie was married twice, first to “One Day at a Time” actress Valerie Bertinelli in 1981 with whom he had Wolfgang. After their divorce in 2007, he married Jane Liszewski in 2008.


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