The world of rock music is in mourning today with the passing of Van Halen guitarist, Eddie Van Halen who finally lost his battle against throat cancer Monday in a Santa Monica CA hospital. He was 65 years old.
Announced Van Halen’s death on twitter, his son Wolfgang, who replaced bassist Michael Anthony in the band said; “I can’t believe I am having to write this. Edward Lodewijk Van Halen has lost his arduous battle with cancer this morning. He was the best father I could ever ask for. Every moment I 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.”
— Wolf Van Halen (@WolfVanHalen) October 6, 2020
Recognized as being one of rock music’s most innovative guitar players, who popularized his unique finger tapping technique, the Dutch-born Van Halen brothers, Eddie and Alex (drums) along with bassist Michael Anthony and original lead vocalist David Lee Roth, emerged from Los Angeles with a debut self-titled album in 1978 which sold 10 million copies, setting the stage for five more successful releases between 1979 and 1984, which established Van Halen as music’s pre-eminent hard rock band.
Van Halen’s public persona was heightened in 1981 when he married `One Day At A Time’ actress Valerie Bertinelli. They later divorced in 2007.
A much-publicized bust-up between the Van Halen brothers and lead singer Roth (who released a successful solo EP in 1984, `Crazy From The Heat’) ended with Roth departing to launch a solo career, replaced by former Montrose frontman Sammy Hagar. And that partnership sparked four more top-selling albums before internal clashes resulted in Hagar to leave the band in 1998 to be replaced for one album and one year by former Extreme frontman Gary Cherone.
Through this period, Van Halen suffered through a series of health challenges. While battling alcohol and drug addiction (and a cigarette smoker since the age of 12), he endured hip replacement surgery, colon diverticulitis and arthritis to his left hand. But it was the bout with tongue and throat cancer which proved to be Van Halen’s undoing. Initially diagnosed in 2000, Van Halen had about one-third of his tongue removed before being declared cancer-free in 2002 only for cancer to return in 2014. Van Halen himself claimed he contracted his throat cancer by developing a habit of putting metal guitar picks in his mouth.
Continual lineup changes with both Hagar and Roth reappearing in the band and his son Wolfgang taking over bass duties from Anthony. Van Halen released a final studio album, `A Different Kind Of Truth’ with Roth in 2012 and managed one last live album with Roth, brother Alex and son Wolfgang, Tokyo Dome Live in Concert in March 2015. This prompted the band’s final tour, a 39-date U.S itinerary which earned an impressive $26 million dollars concluding with two dates; October 2nd and 4th at the Hollywood Bowl.
It was during a television interview, staged to promote his 2020 solo tour, that Roth indicated Van Halen’s future was in doubt and sadly Eddie passed away Monday with son Wolfgang making the official announcement.
Music Express interviewed Van Halen a number of times during those early years of their success but it was usually Roth who served as the band’s official mouthpiece. That changed when he was replaced by Hagar and I got to chat with both Van Halen and Hagar during a phone interview to promote their “5150” release. Music Express had agreed to launch our new U.S distribution deal with Warner Publishing Services by running a cover story on the new lineup in our April 1986 issue.
During the 30-minute chat, Van Halen touched on the personnel clashes with Roth but was supremely confident that Hagar’s inclusion would fire-new energy into the band. I finally met both in person backstage at the CNE later that year when Randy Bachman (with his new BTO lineup which also featured bassist brother Tim and drummer Billy Chapman) served as Van Halen’s opening act.
Eddie and Hagar were in Bachman’s dressing room when I dropped by to say hi to Randy and Eddie enthusiastically told me that Bachman’s band was a favourite of Valerie Bertinelli and she insisted that Van Halen tour with them.