Eddie Van Halen, the master guitarist who teamed up with his drummer brother to create Van Halen — one of the most influential and memorable “hair bands” of the 1980s — died Tuesday following a battle with cancer at age 65.
“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,” his son, Wolfgang, wrote in a social media post announcing the death. “He was the best father I could ever ask for. Every moment I’ve shared with him on and off stage was a gift. My heart is broken and I don’t think I’ll ever fully recover from this loss. I love you so much, Pop.”
Details were not immediate released, but TMZ reported that he died at St. John’s Hospital in Santa Monica after a battle with throat cancer, which he had been fighting for more than a decade.
Born in the Netherlands but raised in Pasadena, he and his brother Alex teamed up with flamboyant singer David Lee Roth and bass player Michael Anthony to create Van Halen in the 1970s.
They went on to become one of the biggest rock bands in the world, particularly following the release of their legendary album “1984.” The band pumped out energetic hits such as “Panama,” “Jump” and “Hot for Teacher.”
Infighting between Eddie Van Halen and Roth led to the singer’s departure from the band in 1985. But Roth was quickly replaced by another established rock star, Sammy Hagar, who remained with the group for a decade, continuing to pump out chart-topping albums.
Hagar eventually left the group in 1995, again following a dispute with Eddie, although they reunited in the early 2000s for a reunion tour. Roth later rejoined the group for another reunion tour, this time featuring Wolfgang Van Halen on bass.
Eddie Van Halen was consistently ranked as one of the top rock guitarists of all time, putting him in big demand. He famously provided the lead-in guitar track for Michael Jackson’s smash hit song “Beat It.”
He also had a long struggle with alcohol and drugs, contributing to the ultimate end of his 16-year marriage to actress Valerie Bertinelli. On social media Tuesday, Bertinelli reposted Wolfgang’s announcement about Eddie Van Halen’s death. On Twitter, she posted a string of broken-heart emojis.
Later Tuesday, she wrote on Instagram: “40 years ago my life changed forever when I met you. You gave me the one true light in my life, our son, Wolfgang. Through all your challenging treatments for lung cancer, you kept your gorgeous spirit and that impish grin. I’m so grateful Wolfie and I were able to hold you in your last moments. I will see you in our next life my love.”
Van Halen’s throat cancer has generally been attributed to his long-time smoking habit, but TMZ reported that Van Halen believed he developed cancer from a metal guitar pick he used to hold in his mouth.
Eddie Van Halen is survived by his son and his wife, Janie.
His death sparked a predictable outpouring of grief in the rock community, led by Hagar, who tweeted a photo of the two together accompanied by the message: “Heartbroken and speechless. My love to the family.”
Aerosmith tweeted: “Rest In Peace @eddievanhalen You will be missed! #Legend,” while Billy Idol wrote: “Rest in peace guitar legend Eddie Van Halen. We will miss you.”
Former David Letterman band leader Paul Shafer tweeted: “Of all the guitarists I got to play with, he was my favorite. RIP Eddie Van Halen.”
Beach Boys legend Brian Wilson wrote: “I just heard about Eddie Van Halen and I feel terrible about it. Eddie was such a great guitarist and I remember how big Van Halen was, especially here in L.A. Love and Mercy to Eddie’s family & friends.”
Red Hot Chili Peppers bassist Flea wrote: “Oh man, bless his beautiful creative heart. I love you Eddie Van Halen, an LA boy, a true rocker. I hope you jam with Jimi tonight. Break through to the other side my brother.”
Country star Kenny Chesney posted a long statement calling Van Halen “a friend and a hero to anyone who has ever picked up a guitar and had a dream. Eddie and his brother Alex joined us on stage at one of our stadium shows in Los Angeles and it was one of the highlights of my touring life in all my summers on the road. I will never forget that night and how happy we both were that our musical paths crossed that night on stage. Rest In Peace to the best guitar player that ever lived.”
From guitarist Lenny Kravitz: “Legendary guitar and musical innovator Edward Van Halen. 1955-2020. Heaven will be electric tonight.”
From Journey guitarist Neal Schon: “God Bless you Eddie. I’ll always remember the great times we had. My sincere condolences to all Family and friends. I am heart broken Broken. RIP Brother xo.”
Paul Stanley of KISS wrote: “Oh NO! Speechless. A trailblazer and someone who always gave everything to his music. A good soul. I remember first seeing him playing at the Starwood in 1976 and he WAS Eddie Van Halen. So shocked and sad. My condolences to Wolfie and the family.”
KISS’ Gene Simmons tweeted: “My heart is broken. Eddie was not only a Guitar God, but a genuinely beautiful soul. Rest in peace, Eddie!”
And Yusaf Islam (also known as Cat Stevens) posted: “Sad to hear Eddie Van Halen has passed away. A guitar innovator with a fierce spirit of musical and technical exploration. Prayers and thoughts with his family and friends.”
The Recording Academy released the following statement: “During his legendary career, Grammy Award winner Eddie Van Halen contributed 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. The world is lucky to have witnessed Eddie’s genius as a guitarist, and we know he will influence and shape rock music indefinitely.”