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Eddie Van Halen dead at 65

Eddie Van Halen
(Image credit: Fin Costello/Redferns)

Legendary Van Halen guitarist Eddie Van Halen has died at the age of 65. His death follows a long battle with cancer, with the news confirmed in a statement from his son, Wolfgang. 

The full statement reads: "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 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."

Born in Amsterdam in 1955, Eddie and his drummer brother Alex moved to Pasadena, California, with their parents in the early 60s. They formed the band that would transform into Van Halen in 1972, with the lineup completed in 1974 by vocalist David Lee Roth and bassist Michael Anthony.

Van Halen released their self-titled debut album in 1978. The album would revolutionise rock music, redefining what it meant to be a guitarist – Eddie's innovative two-handed ‘tapping’ technique made him the most influential guitarist since Jimi Hendrix – and providing a template for thousands of musicians to follow. 

"I tried playing exactly like some people but I just couldn’t,” Eddie said. “I think that’s how my style developed. Out of the mere fact I couldn’t play like someone else. I had to do something. I had to come up with something myself. I always still look at myself like a kid looking at these guys like they’re big. I just don’t look at myself as equal to them.”

With frontman Roth as cheerleader, the band seemed hellbent on bringing some showbiz back to to rock’n’roll, pumping an entire genre with helium in order for it to fly. Van Halen became America’s favourite party band, their high-octane turbo-pop songs the soundtrack to the ‘me’ decade. 

When Roth left the band in 1985 some of the magic went with him, even if his replacement, Sammy Hagar, was a better singer. Even then, the new-look ‘Van Hagar’ proved just as successful as the former model, and Eddie Van Halen remained an innovative, inspirational force.

The band slowed down over time, and 2012's A Different Kind of Truth – which saw Roth's return and Eddie's son Wolfgang Van Halen take over from Michael Anthony on bass – is the only album the band released this century.  

Van Halen was plagued by ill health over the last two decades of his life. He underwent hip replacement surgery in 1999, received treatment for tongue cancer the following year, and entered rehab for longstanding alcohol problems in 2005. Last year it was reported that the guitarist had been battling throat cancer for years.

Despite Van Halen's ill health, rumours of a Van Halen reunion continued to circulate, and earlier this year Sammy Hagar told Rolling Stone, “Until Ed or Alex Van Halen die, they’re not finished. Those are two great musicians that can friggin’ do as good as most people at half-mast. As a drummer and as a guitarist and creative person, Eddie, I can’t see them ever being finished. 

"I foresee it happening. I just know what I know in my heart and my head, which is that it has to happen."

Tributes to Van Halen have come from across the world of music.

Sammy Hagar: "Heartbroken and speechless. My love to the family."

Metallica: "We are enormously saddened to hear about the untimely passing of Eddie Van Halen. We considered him an inspiration, an idol, and after spending a summer together on the road in '88, a friend. Sending love to Alex, & everyone in the greater VH family."

Geezer Butler: "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. RIP. So sad.Thoughts go out to his brother Alex, and his family."

Tony  Iommi: "I’m just devastated to hear the news of the passing of my dear friend Eddie Van Halen. He fought a long and hard battle with his cancer right to the very end. Eddie was one of a very special kind of person, a really great friend. Rest In Peace my dear friend till we meet again."

Paul Stanley: "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.

Gene Simmons: "My heart is broken. Eddie was not only a Guitar God, but a genuinely beautiful soul. Rest in peace, Eddie!"

Joe Bonamassa: "Words cannot describe how monumental the loss of Edward Van Halen is to the music community. He inspired generations of guitar players of all genres. His playing was unrivalled in its ingenuity and its ferocity. Rest In Peace to the greatest Rock Guitarist of all time."

Alice In Chains: "Thank you, Eddie, for all you did for us. You are a legend and you will be missed. EVH"

Bruce Kulick: "I am saddened to hear to news one of my true guitar heroes death, Eddie Van Halen. He expanded the landscape of lead guitar playing, and took it to another level like a turbo charged muscle car leaving everyone behind. I was very influenced by his emotional lead playing. EVH RIP"

David Coverdale: "Omg...RIP, Edward...Our Thoughts Are Prayers Are With Your Family, Friends & Fans...What An Incredible Loss...Truly An Astonishing Musician..."

Joe Elliott: "I saw Van Halen destroy 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… I had the pleasure of being on the same bill as Van Halen 7 years ago when Kings Of Chaos were on the same bill at the Stone Music Festival in Australia. I’m happy to say that his playing that night was as good as it’s ever been, he certainly shook things up when he came on the scene …. Rest In Peace Eddie"

Vivian Campbell: "I distinctly remember the first moment I heard Eddie play. A good friend, also a guitarist, had just bought the first Van Halen album and came by my house and told me that I urgently needed to hear this. He wasn't wrong; it was a moment that redefined everything that I thought was possible about playing the guitar. The goalposts had just been moved. I stayed up all that night trying to learn from Eddie. Many, many decades later, and I'm still learning from Eddie."

Nikki Sixx: "Crushed. So fucking crushed. RIP Eddie Van Halen. You changed our world. You were the Mozart of rock guitar. Travel safe rockstar."

Vince Neil: "I just found out that my guitar hero Eddie had passed away. I have fond memories of the tours we did together! He’s up there shredding!!!! RIP my friend."

Dee Snider: "Just found out has died. I remember driving home from a club gig with late one night and hearing "Eruption" on the radio for the first time. Our minds were blown... and guitar playing was never the same. RIP Eddie. You left your mark."

Yngwie Malmsteen: "Just heard the devastating news... One of the absolute giants is gone. He influenced and inspired an entire generation, including myself. His legacy will always remain. RIP Edward."

Vernon Reid: One of the undisputed GOATS. Completely altered the direction of the Complete Culture of  Guitar As We Know It. A True Hero

Brian Wilson: "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."

Scott Ian: "I remember the moment I heard Eruption - 9th grade lunchroom early 1978, our long hair crew sequestered at our usual table in the corner - all seven of us crowded around my friend David Karibian's little cassette player that was cued up... David was smiling at us because he’d already heard it and he knew it was going to blow our fucking minds and then he hit play... 7 jaws hit the floor at the same time and life suddenly was so much more fun." 

Alex Skolnick: "There have been many big losses in the music world but few that just stop you in your tracks, leave you speechless and basically unable to function. Similarly, very few for whom you can say - as for countless others in your field - that without this person, you might not be who you are today, for your life would look very different. Ironically I was just planning to post a new track I’ve been holed up working on that’s directly influenced by him, playing an instrument based on his (swipe to see). It doesn’t feel appropriate to post it today (it’s another humorous song a la Zappa), and the timing is eery. There so much more to say, at a total loss for words. I can’t believe I have to type this right now: RIP Eddie Van Halen." 

Dave Lombardo: "Rest In Peace, Edward Lodewijk Van Halen . Icon, innovator, virtuoso. There will never be another like you."

Charlie Benante: "So much love for Eddie Van Halen. Can’t believe this fucking year I often said that He was the One that revolutionized guitar playing. He was so percussive and his mistakes sound correct (though he never made one). Our heroes are all leaving and I hate it!"

Tom Keifer: "Our son was 6 yrs old the first time he heard Eddie Van Halen. He looked at Savannah & me and asked... “Does he need two picks to play like that?” There are great guitarists... & there are innovators that change everything. Condolences to his family."

Flea: "Oh man. Damn. I love you Eddie Van Halen. A true rocker, a deep musician, a HUGE heart, an LA boy through and through. A bold innovator and the undisputed king of all wheedlers. What a sound!!! I hope you jam with Jimi tonight and soar freely through the cosmos. A vibrant part of music has left this earth. Broken through to the other side. What a sweetheart, my brother. All love and condolences to your family."

Foreigner: "Dear Eddie, Working with you was one of the brightest highlights of my life. Your friend forever, Mick Jones. 

Muse: "One of the greatest guitarists of all time! Rest in peace Eddie Van Halen".

Mark Morton: "Edward Van Halen was the single reason I ever wanted to play guitar to begin with. He’s the worlds greatest guitar hero, inspiring generations of players to pick up the instrument we love so dearly. Thank you so much for the music and inspiration. We love you forever Eddie."

Steve Hackett: "I’m really sad to hear about the passing of Eddie Van Halen. A brilliant guitarist."

Tom Hamilton: "Can’t believe Eddie Van Halen is gone. He was born to be great! There’s a huge band somewhere in Heaven and I think I know who’s playing lead."

Mike Portnoy: I am in complete and utter shock over the news of Edward Van Halen’s passing... Very few musicians ever come along that change the entire landscape of their instrument and King Edward was one of those few. One of the G.O.A.T!

Nita Stauss: "The word “innovator” gets thrown around a lot in this industry. In my humble opinion, there is no one it applies to more than the great Eddie Van Halen. Thank you for being THE innovator of these six strings and blazing a trail for so many of us to attempt to follow."

Goo Goo Dolls: "Absolutely devastated to hear about the passing of Eddie Van Halen. He was a guitar legend !! Thank you for all the great music EVH."

Biff Byford: "Another genius gone. Saw him play a few times. RIP Eddie Van Halen."

David Ellefson: The world lost an icon, innovator, showman, virtuoso, master songwriter and perhaps one of the biggest inspirations ever to learn how to play guitar. Heartbroken to hear of Eddie Van Halen’s passing. Our love, condolences and best wishes to his his family, friends and fans.

Curtis Stigers: "Van Halen was popular when I was a teenager but it took until I was older & a more educated musician to understand just how astoundingly good Eddie Van Halen was. One of the greatest musicians ever recorded. He changed the way music is played & heard. And he rocked. Rock on & on."

Billy Idol: "Rest in peace guitar legend Eddie Van Halen. We will miss you."

Matt Heafy: "Rest In Peace to one of the truly greatest musicians of all time. My first guitar hero - the guitarist I grew up listening to in car rides with my family - a man I excitedly share the same birth date and month with: Mr. Eddie Van Halen."

Yusef / Cat Stevens: "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."

Danko Jones: "I am devastated by the news that Eddie Van Halen has died. I am absolutely devastated. I am on twitter to cope right now."

DJ Ashba: "I am devastated to learn about the passing of one of my biggest influences. A true legend, friend and innovator of guitar, tone and style. I will always cherish the times I get to spend with Ed. Wow....just wow."

Michael Sweet: "No words can express what the world has lost. Eddie Van Halen meant more to me than I could ever express & I’m absolutely devastated by the news of his passing. My thoughts & prayers go out to the entire Van Halen family & I wish them all peace & healing. There will never another."

Nickelback: “The world lost an icon, innovator, showman, virtuoso, master songwriter and perhaps one of the biggest inspirations ever to learn how to play guitar. Heartbroken to hear of Eddie Van Halen’s passing. Our love, condolences and best wishes to his his family, friends and fans. RIP.