Eddie Van Halen, the guitar virtuoso whose blinding speed, control and innovation propelled his band Van Halen into one of hard rocks biggest groups and became elevated to the status of rock god, has died. He was 65.
A person close to Van Halens family confirmed the rocker died Tuesday due to cancer. The person was not authorised to publicly release details in advance of an official announcement.
“He was the best father I could ask for,” Van Halens son Wolfgang wrote in a social media post. “Every moment Ive shared with him on and off stage was a gift.” With his distinct solos, Eddie Van Halen fuelled the ultimate California party band and helped knock disco off the charts starting in the late 1970s with his bands self-titled debut album and then with the blockbuster record 1984, which contains the classics “Jump”, “Panama” and “Hot for Teacher”.
Van Halen is among the top 20 best-selling artists of all time, and the band was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2007. Rolling Stone magazine put Eddie Van Halen at No. 8 in its list of the 100 greatest guitarists.
Eddie Van Halen was something of a musical contradiction. He was an autodidact who could play almost any instrument, but he couldnt read music. He was a classically trained pianist who also created some of the most distinctive guitar riffs in rock history.
He was a Dutch immigrant who was considered one of the greatest American guitarists of his generation.
Honours came from the music world, from Lenny Kravitz to Kenny Chesney. “You changed our world. You were the Mozart of rock guitar. Travel safe, rockstar, Motley Crues Nikki Sixx said on Twitter. Added Lenny Kravitz: “Heaven will be electric tonight.” The members of Van Halen – the two Van Halen brothers, Eddie and Alex; vocalist David Lee Roth; and bassist Michael Anthony – formed in 1974 in Pasadena, California. They were members of rival high school bands and then attended Pasadena City College together. They combined to form the band Mammoth, but then changed to Van Halen after discovering there was another band called Mammoth.
Their 1978 release “Van Halen” opened with a blistering “Runnin With the Devil” and then Eddie Van Halen showed off his astonishing skills in the next song, “Eruption”, a furious 1:42 minute guitar solo that swoops and soars like a deranged bird. The album also contained a cover of the Kinks “You Really Got Me” and “Aint Talkin Bout Love”.
Van Halen released albums on a yearly timetable – “Van Halen II” (1979), Women and Children First (1980), Fair Warning (1981) and Diver Down (1982) – until the monumental 1984, which hit No. 2 on the Billboard 200 album charts (only behind Michael Jacksons Thriller). Rolling Stone ranked 1984 No. 81 on its list of the 100 Greatest Albums of the 1980s.
“Eddie put the smile back in rock guitar, at a time when it was all getting a bit brooding. He also scared the hell out of a million guitarists around the world, because he was so damn good. And original, Joe Satriani, a fellow virtuoso, told Billboard in 2015.
Van Halen also played guitar on one of the biggest singles of the 1980s: Jacksons “Beat It”. His solo lasted all of 20 seconds and took only a half an hour to record. He did it as a favour to producer Quincy Jones, while the rest of his Van Halen bandmates were out of town.
Van Halen received no compensation or credit for the work, even though he rearranged the section he played on. “It was 20 minutes of my life. I didnt want anything for doing that,” he told Billboard in 2015. “I literally thought to myself, Who is possibly going to know if I play on this kids record?” Rolling Stone ranked Beat It No. 344 on its list of the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time. Jacksons melding of hard rock and R&B preceded the meeting of Run-DMC and Aerosmith by four years.
Van Halen, sober since 2008, lost one-third of his tongue to a cancer that eventually drifted into his esophagus. In 1999, he had a hip replacement. He was married twice, to actress Valerie Bertinelli from 1981 to 2007 and then to stuntwoman-turned-publicist Janie Liszewski, whom he wed in 2009.
“Im so grateful Wolfie and I were able to hold you in your last moments,” Bertinelli wrote on Instagram, showing an image of their baby son. “I will see you in our next life.”
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