Eddie Van Halen dies at 65 of cancer

Eddie Van Halen dies at 65 of cancer

Eddie Van Halen, the guitar virtuoso whose blinding speed, control and innovation propelled his band Van Halen into one of hard rock’s biggest groups, fuelled the unmistakable fiery solo in Michael Jackson’s hit Beat It and became elevated to the status of rock god, has died. He was 65.

A person close to Van Halen’s family confirmed the rocker died Tuesday due to cancer. The person was not authorized to publicly release details in advance of an official announcement.

His son also confirmed his death and the cause on Twitter.

“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,” Wolfgang Van Halen said in the tweet.

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 band’s self-titled debut album and then with the blockbuster record 1984, which contains the classics JumpPanama and Hot for Teacher.

Van Halen performs Beat It with Michael Jackson at a concert in Irving, Texas, in July 1984. (Carlos Osorio/The Associated Press)

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 couldn’t 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.

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, Calif. 

David Lee Roth and Van Halen perform in Toronto in October 2007. (Aaron Harris/The Canadian Press)

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 one-and-a-half 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 Ain’t Talkin’ ‘Bout Love.

Mike McCready of Pearl Jam told Rolling Stone magazine that listening to Van Halen’s Eruption was like hearing Mozart for the first time. “He gets sounds that aren’t necessarily guitar sounds — a lot of harmonics, textures that happen just because of how he picks.”

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 Jackson’s 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.

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