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07 October 2020

Rock Guitarist Eddie Van Halen Dies, 65, Of Throat Cancer

Eddie Van Halen CREDIT Getty Images
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Eddie Van Halen, the virtuoso guitarist and founder member of iconic hard rock act Van Halen, has died after a lengthy battle with throat cancer. He was 65. Van Halen’s son Wolfgang, who became the band’s bassist when they reunited in 2007, announced the news on Twitter, on Tuesday, 6 October.

“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 wrote.

“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.”

Blistering, acrobatic lead guitar

Van Halen was born in 1955 in Amsterdam, but raised in Pasadena, California. He formed the band Van Halen along with his brother, Alex, bassist Michael Anthony and singer David Lee Roth in 1974, after the group met while attending Pasadena City College.

The band earned their chops playing in West Hollywood clubs before announcing themselves to the world in 1978 with their self-titled debut album for Warner Bros. Van Halen ultimately sold over ten million copies as part of a hard rock wave that helped push disco off the top of the charts.

The group, who became one of the 20 bestselling rock artists of all time, then hit a purple patch, releasing multi-platinum albums in five consecutive years: Van Halen II (1979), Women And Children First (1980), Fair Warning (1981), Diver Down (1982) and, finally, their biggest record, 1984, which included the monster hits Jump, Panama and Hot For Teacher.

Beginning as he meant to go on, with a blazing solo on Eruption, from the group’s debut album, Eddie Van Halen’s blistering, acrobatic lead guitar style fuelled the band’s appeal, earning him a reputation as one of rock’s all-time greats.

“I do whatever I want”

Van Halen cited Cream as a formative influence and idolised Eric Clapton, but he pioneered his own dynamic style – often playing with both hands on the neck of the guitar, a method which was imitated but never bettered by a generation of guitarists. “I do whatever I want,” he said in an interview with Guitar Player, in 1978. “I don’t really think about it too much. Everything is pretty spontaneous.”

Lead singer David Lee Roth remained with Van Halen through their heyday until he left the group in 1985 to go solo. Van Halen continued as a unit, recruiting Sammy Hagar to step in through the rest of the 80s and the majority of the 90s. Gary Cherone from Extreme also fronted Van Halen for one album, 1998’s Van Halen III.

While the band never formally broke up, Eddie Van Halen’s health issues led to a number of hiatuses. He was declared cancer-free in 2002 but dealt with recurrences over the years. Van Halen were later inducted into the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame in 2007, and, in 2012, released their final studio album, A Different Kind Of Truth.

“He shook things up”

Tributes to the legendary guitarist have been pouring in from all corners of the music world, Van Halen’s former bandmate, Dave Lee Roth, led the testimonials when he posted a short message on Twitter and a black-and-white picture of the pair together. “What a Long Great Trip It’s Been,” he said.

Def Leppard’s Joe Elliott said in a statement: “I saw Van Halen destroy [Black] Sabbath at the Sheffield City Hall in 1977… Eddie was a big part of that, having essentially reinvented guitar playing just like Jimi Hendrix had done a generation earlier. He certainly shook things up when he came on the scene… Rest In Peace Eddie.”

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