Photo courtesy of Wolfgang Van Halen’s Twitter
By Jacqueline Jedrych
KISS’s Gene Simmons remembers him as a “Guitar God,” his bandmates remember him as “kind and gentle,” and the rest of the world remembers him as legendary. Eddie Van Halen, one of the most famous and influential musicians of all time, died on Tuesday, October 6 after a battle with throat cancer. He was 65.
The guitarist’s son, Wolfgang Van Halen, announced his passing on Twitter.
“He was the best father I could ever ask for,” Wolfgang said. “Every moment I’ve shared with him on and off stage was a gift.”
Edward Lodewijk Van Halen was born on January 26, 1955, in Amsterdam. His father, Jan Van Halen, was a jazz pianist, clarinetist, and saxophonist. After moving to Pasadena, California, Eddie and his brother Alex learned to play piano at age 6. Eddie admitted he could never really read music, despite obvious musical acumen.
“I can’t read music,” Eddie said. “Instead, I’d do stuff inside the piano, do harmonics, and all kinds of crazy things. They used to put me in these annual piano contests down at Long Beach City College, and two years in a row, I won first prize – out of like 5,000 kids! The judges were like, ‘Very interesting interpretation!’ I thought I was playing it right.”
His parents wanted the boys to go into classical piano, but they preferred rock. They formed a band with three other boys: Eddie on guitar and Alex on drums, and performed at their elementary school’s lunchtime. Eddie cited this as the first time he felt the desire to be a professional musician.
Eddie and Alex formed the band that would become Van Halen in 1972. They began with Eddie on guitar, Alex on drums, David Lee Roth on vocals, and Michael Anthony on bass. The group, known for their turbulence, would cycle through many singers and bassists, including Sammy Hagar and Eddie’s son Wolfgang.
Eddie was a hard rock trailblazer and is often credited as restoring the genre to prominence in the late ’70s and ’80s. His love of music was evident in all his songs and features. Van Halen also popularized guitar techniques such as tapping, allowing rapid arpeggios to be played with two hands on the fretboard.
“It’s always about the music,” Eddie said in an interview. “Never about anything else.”
The band smashed the Billboard charts, reintroducing hard rock into the popular scene. Van Halen was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2007.
“Innovative,” reads the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame website. “Like his hero Les Paul, Eddie reimagined the sonic possibilities of the guitar and became an inspiration for an entire generation of musicians who worshiped his sound and style.”
Jack White, the lead singer of the White Stripes, paid tribute to the rock juggernaut as musical guest star on this week’s Saturday Night Live by playing on a blue Eddie Van Halen style guitar.
“Eddie was very kind to me and saw to it that this guitar was made for me to my specs,” White wrote in an Instagram post. “I won’t even insult the man’s talent by trying to play one of his songs tonight. Thanks again Eddie for this guitar and rest in peace sir.”
Despite a rocky past, his former bandmates, David Lee Roth, Sammy Hagar, Micheal Anthony, and Gary Cherone, as well as his ex-wife and mother of his son, Valerie Bertinelli, all shared tributes to the musician.
Eddie is survived by his son Wolfgang Van Halen and wife Janie Van Halen.
“The name Van Halen, the family legacy, is going to go on long after I’m gone,” Eddie said in an interview