Legendary guitarist Eddie Van Halen, who co-founded the rock band Van Halen, has died at 65 following a years-long battle with throat cancer.
“I can’t believe I’m having to write this,” his son Wolf Van Halen, who became Van Halen’s bassist in 2006, wrote on Twitter.
“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 recover from this loss.”
Eddie Van Halen, born in Amsterdam in 1955 to a classical musician father, moved to California with his family and formed Van Halen in the 1970s with his brother and drummer Alex Van Halen, bassist Mark Stone, and singer David Lee Roth.
Van Halen famously never learned to read music and only started playing piano by watching and listening. He reluctantly took up guitar when his brother proved more talented at the drums.
“We came here with approximately $50 and a piano, and we didn’t speak the language,” he said in 2015 at an event at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History. “Now look where we are. If that’s not the American dream, what is?”
The band became popular on the Los Angeles circuit in the 1970s, but their first three-track tape, financed by Gene Simmons, was considered a dud by record labels.
They were then discovered by band manager Marshall Berle after they put on a sold-out show in their hometown of Pasadena. It eventually led to a contract with Warner and their 1978 debut album, Van Halen, regarded as one of the greatest rock and roll albums of all time.
The band won a Grammy in 1992 for best hard rock performance with vocals for For Unlawful Carnal Knowledge, and they had 13 number one Billboard hits on the mainstream rock chart.
Mötley Crüe’s Nikki Sixx called Van Halen the “Mozart of rock guitar” in a Tuesday tribute. “Crushed. So fucking crushed,” he wrote. “You changed our world.”
It’s hard to think of a better guitar solo than 1978’s “Eruption” but Eddie, who was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2007, was not just famous for his “tapping” with Van Halen.
He was a prolific contributor to hits by other musicians: He played the guitar solo in Michael Jackson’s “Beat It” in 1982, was featured in the intro to Frank Sinatra 1984 music video “L.A. Is My Lady,” co-wrote riffs with Black Sabbath, appeared on tracks for rapper LL Cool J, and wrote instrumental music for a porn film titled Sacred Sin.
Eddie’s infamous stage antics, including acrobatic split jumps, leaps, and crashes, were so outlandish they gave him lasting injuries. Aggravated by his chronic osteonecrosis (or degeneration of bone tissue), he underwent hip replacement surgery in 1999.
He was treated for tongue cancer in 2000 and underwent surgery that removed a large chunk of his tongue. He was declared cancer free in 2000, but last year his family revealed he’d been secretly battling throat cancer for five years.
“My heart is broken,” Gene Simmons posted on Twitter Tuesday. “Eddie was not only a Guitar God, but a genuinely beautiful soul.”
Lenny Kravitz paid tribute to Van Halen’s infamous jumps and his musical innovation. The late guitarist was often credited with pioneering the solo technique he called tapping, in which both hands are used on the guitar neck—an idea he said was sparked by watching Led Zeppelin’s Jimmy Page perform his solo in “Heartbreaker.”
“Heaven will be electric tonight,” Kravitz wrote.
Black Sabbath bassist Geezer Butler wrote, “Just when I thought 2020 couldn’t get any worse, I hear Eddie Van Halen has passed. So shocking- One of the nicest, down to Earth men I have ever met and toured with. A true gent and true genius.”
Former Van Halen frontman Sammy Hagar posted a tweet that said he was “heartbroken and speechless.”