Eddie Van Halen, who redefined the sounds and capabilities of the electric guitar in the 70’s and 80’s, died Tuesday of throat cancer at age 65.
Edward Lodewijk Van Halen was born Jan. 26, 1955, in Amsterdam to a Dutch father and an Indonesian mother. His father, Jan, was a classically trained clarinet and saxophone player who traveled the world playing music and passed his obsession onto his sons, Eddie and Alex.
Eddie was 7 when his family left the Netherlands for America, where they settled in Pasadena, California. Eddie and his brother Alex, with uncertain English, performed in assemblies in elementary school in a band they called the Broken Combs. Eddie bought a drum kit with money from a newspaper route but soon switched to guitar.
Eddie said his early inspiration was the Dave Clark Five, and learned to play as a teen by slowing down their music. In later years, he said he rarely listened to contemporary musicians but acknowledged the influence of Eric Clapton, saying he knew every note he played.
The brothers attended Pasadena College together and performed in a band called Mammoth. From rival bands they eventually recruited Michael Anthony and David Lee Roth to become known as Van Halen. They played backyard parties and high schools, graduating to the Sunset Strip clubs Gazzarri’s and the Whisky a Go Go.
Spotted by Kiss singer-bassist Gene Simmons, he signed them to a 15-song demo recording, and their career was started. Their debut album was released as “Van Halen,” on Feb. 10, 1978.
The guitarist never learned to read sheet music, but he knew how to play a guitar.
“Ed’s a once- or twice-in-a-century kind of guy. There’s Hendrix and there’s Eddie Van Halen,” friend and guitarist Jerry Cantrell of Alice in Chains said during Grammy weekend in January 2019. “Those two guys tilted the world on its axis.”
The son of an alcoholic father, Van Halen began drinking and smoking at age 12 and struggled for decades with alcohol and cocaine. Several attempts at sobriety included a stop at the Betty Ford Center in Rancho Mirage, and by 2008, he declared himself sober for good. Aside from drug and alcohol issues, Van Halen faced a variety of health crises. He underwent a hip replacement in 1999 and lost a third of his tongue to cancer. Though he was declared free of the disease in 2002, recent reports suggested the cancer had returned. In a January interview, David Lee Roth had reported, “Ed’s not doing well.”
Van Halen is survived by his second wife, Janie Van Halen , whom he married in 2009; son, Wolfgang; and brother, Alex.
Below is from 2015, a live celebration/compilation of a guitar legend.