Eddie Van Halen dies from cancer at 65 (Update: Rock stars react to the news)

Today, Eddie Van Halen’s son announced on Twitter that the guitarist had passed away after a long battle with cancer.

As a father, I have to think that having a son who knew you and loved you that much has to be worth as much as any praise or adulation the rest of the world could possibly offer. If he had achieved nothing else in his life he’d have died a rich man. But obviously he was also loved by a lot of people around the world and has been for more than 40 years. Rolling Stone has a run down of how he made his way into the business:

The family emigrated to America when Eddie was eight and settled in Pasadena, California. An infatuation with the Dave Clark Five caused Eddie to take up the drums, while Alex tried his hands at guitar. One fateful day, frustrated that he couldn’t nail the Surfaris’ “Wipe Out” on the drums, Eddie swapped instruments with Alex and the change stuck.

The duo formed a series of bands in the early 1970s with names like the Broken Combs, the Trjoban Rubber Co and Genesis, but never got significant traction until they came across the charismatic son of a wealthy doctor named David Lee Roth. “Roth was the only guy who had a PA,” Eddie said. “We were renting his PA every weekend for $35 and getting $50 for the gigs. So it was cheaper to get him in the band.”

With Roth at the helm, Van Halen — which also featured Michael Anthony on bass — became one of the most popular groups on the Pasadena rock circuit, playing backyard parties, strip clubs and wherever else they could find. Their repertoire consisted largely of covers, but they slowly began to assemble a collection of original tunes like “Runnin’ With the Devil” and “Somebody Get me a Doctor.” Kiss frontman Gene Simmons recorded a demo with them and tried to land them a deal, but they wouldn’t sign anything until Mo Ostin of Warner Bros. caught one of their gigs and gave them a record contact in 1977.

There first album, recorded when Eddie was 22-years-old, was a breakout hit and they wound up opening for major bands like Aerosmith. But as the band continued to sell albums the relationship between Van Halen and Roth deteriorated:

When it came time to record a follow-up to Diver Down, Eddie insisted they record “Jump” and incorporate synthesizers into other tracks. The result was the smash 1984 turned that them into MTV superstars as videos for “Jump,” “Panama” and “Hot For Teacher” went into heavy rotation and the album began selling by the millions, reaching Number 2 on the Billboard 200. The tour took them all over the world, but Eddie and Roth were barely speaking offstage. When the tour ended, Roth left the group and began working on a solo album. “I cried,” Eddie told Rolling Stone, “then I called my brother and told him the motherfucker quit. I felt like I’d put up with this guy’s shit for all these years just for him to walk.”

The band found a replacement for Roth in Sammy Hagar and went on to have another string of hits and successful tours into the 90s. A third attempt to recreate the band with singer Gary Cherone wasn’t successful and by the time Van Halen with Sammy Hagar reformed in the early 2000s, Eddie was struggling with alcoholism:

The tour was marred by sloppy performances and bad reviews. A little over a year after it wrapped, Valerie Bertinelli, filed for divorce. When the group was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2007, Eddie didn’t make the ceremony, reportedly because he was in rehab.

I was in elementary school in Virginia when the first Van Halen album came out and even then I remember it making an impact on kids who started drawing the band’s logo on their notebooks. When I started buying albums that first album is one that I bought. I was never a super-fan, never saw them play live with either Roth or Hagar but for most of my life it felt like Van Halen was always present, either on the radio or blaring out of dorm rooms. They weren’t generic but they were universal in the way that only a handful of bands ever seem to be. Even people who didn’t like the style of the music or the rock star theatrics surrounding the band could admit they had some good tunes and of course that Eddie was an amazing talent.

Not long ago I happened to watch an interview with Eddie Van Halen. It was a fairly small room with maybe 200-300 or so guests, most of who seemed to be longtime fans. There was a Q&A where one guy said for 35 years he’d thought about what he’d say to Eddie if he ever got the chance. “I just want to say thank you, man, from the bottom of my heart,” he said. That struck me as a pretty good approach. Rest in peace Eddie Van Halen and thanks for sharing your talent and music with a whole generation of people.

This is the interview, from 2017:

Update: Lots of rock stars reacting to the news.

Update: Lots of people pointing out that one of Eddie’s most famous solos didn’t appear on a Van Halen album:

When Van Halen arrived at the studio in Los Angeles, [Quincy] Jones told him he could improvise. Van Halen listened to “Beat It,” asked if he could rearrange the song and added a pair of solos during which, engineers would long swear, a speaker caught on fire…

After the record’s release, Van Halen would remember shopping in a Tower Records while “Beat It” was playing on the sound system.

“The solo comes on, and I hear these kids in front of me going, ‘Listen to this guy trying to sound like Eddie Van Halen,’” he said. “I tapped him on the shoulder and said, ‘That IS me!’ That was hilarious.”

He added the solo to one of the best selling singles in history for free:

Update: Quite a few guitar players reacting to the news: