Eddie Van Halen was one of the best guitarists the world has ever seen. His name belongs on lists alongside such greats as Robert Johnson, Jimi Hendrix, and Stevie Ray Vaughan. The way he approached his instrument was innovative not only in how he played but how he designed the guitars he played. Van Halen was a virtuoso, an originator, and an icon.
Eddie Van Halen would have been 66 years old today. In celebration of the icon’s birthday, we’re looking back at some of the biggest moments in his career.
Eddie Van Halen’s Early Life
According to Biography, Eddie Van Halen was born in Nijmegen, the Netherlands on January 26th, 1955. A few years later, he and his family moved to Pasadena, California. During his childhood, Eddie and his brother Alex took classical piano lessons. These lessons formed the foundation of Van Halen’s musical prowess.
When Alex and Eddie Van Halen reached their teen years, they left piano and classical music behind them. Alex started playing drums and Eddie picked up the guitar. Before long, they formed a rock band called Mammoth. In 1974, the brothers added bassist Michael Anthony and vocalist David Lee Roth to the lineup before changing the band’s name. With these additions, Van Halen was formed.
Van Halen Sees Early Success
For the next few years, Van Halen played local clubs and venues. One night, Kiss bassist Gene Simmons saw the band play at a local club and knew they had something special. He financed and facilitated their first recording session in 1977.
This recording session resulted in them signing to Warner Bros Records. A year later, the band released their debut self-titled album. Eddie Van Halen’s guitar work combined with Roth’s vocals shot the band into stardom. Within six months, the album was certified platinum.
Van Halen Soars to Superstar Status
Over the next few years, Van Halen released four albums. All of which were certified platinum. Then, in 1984, Eddie Van Halen’s stunning riffs would begin melting the Billboard charts as well as MTV countdowns. With the album “1984” the band went from platinum-selling rockers to worldwide superstars.
“1984” contains some of the bands biggest and most iconic songs. Tracks like “Jump,” “Panama,” and “Hot for Teacher” helped to push sales of the album through the roof. To this day, the singles from “1984” remain fan favorites.
The Band Returns With Original Vocalist
Before long, trouble started brewing in the band. Tensions flared between David Lee Roth and the rest of Van Halen. In 1985, Roth recorded and released a somewhat successful solo album. Wanting to strike out on his own, Roth left the band and was replaced by Sammy Hagar.
Many hardcore Van Halen fans don’t much care for the albums featuring Hagar’s vocals. In fact, some refuse to call the band by its proper name. Instead, they call this lineup Van Hagar, disparagingly. Despite this, the band released several successful albums while fronted by Hagar.
Eddie Van Halen and the rest of the band were known for hard partying. However, in the 1990s, Eddie got sober. Sammy Hagar did not. Their divergent lifestyles caused the pair to butt heads several times over the years. Hagar left the band after their 1995 album “Balance.”
In 2012, David Lee Roth returned to the band. That year, they released “A Different Kind of Truth.” Three years later Van Halen opened the Billboard Music Awards. In a stunning performance of their hit song “Panama,” Van Halen proved to the world that they still had it.
This performance served as the launchpad for the band’s 2015 world tour.
The World Loses a Legend
Eddie Van Halen wasn’t just one of the best rock guitarists in history. He was one of the best guitarists to ever pick up the instrument, bar none.
Over the years, Eddie fought several battles with cancer. In 1999 he received treatment for tongue cancer. During this treatment, the guitarist lost over one-third of his tongue. After this, he was declared cancer-free. In 2019, Eddie was hospitalized while battling throat cancer. After his death, his ex-wife, Valerie Bertinelli, mentioned a battle with lung cancer as well.
On October 6, 2020, Eddie Van Halen passed away at Saint John’s Health Center in Santa Monica, California. The official cause of death was a stroke. That day, the world lost a legend and an originator. It will be a long time before we see anyone who matches the passion or talent of Eddie Van Halen.