Rock and roll legend Eddie Van Halen dies of cancer at age 65

By Zach Harper

Rock and roll legend Eddie Van Halen has died at age 65 after a long battle with throat cancer.

Wolfgang Van Halen, his son, confirmed the news in a statement on Oct. 6, sharing his heartbreak over his father's death.

"I can't believe I'm having to write this, but my father, Edward Loewijk Van Halen, has lost his long and arduous battle with cancer this morning," Wolfgang wrote. "He was the best father I could ever ask for. Every moment I've shared with him on and off stage was a gift.

"My heart is broken and I don't think I'll ever fully recover from this loss. I love you so much, Pop."

Celebrities and musicians were quick to react to Eddie's death, sharing their disbelief and dismay at losing such an iconic figure in the history of music.

"Two of the best hours of my life were spent chatting with Eddie Van Halen," Jimmy Kimmel tweeted. "A great musician, yes – also a funny and lovely guy who will be missed terribly. Sending love to Janie, Wolf, Alex and all those who loved him."

"As influential and important a musician as has ever lived," George Stroumboulopoulos tweeted. "Shred in Peace, Eddie Van Halen."

"I'm just devastated to hear the news of the passing of my dear friend Eddie Van Halen," Black Sabbath guitarist Tony Iommitweeted. "He fought a long and hard battle with his cancer right to the very end. Eddie was one of a very special ind of person, a really great friend."

"Oh NO!" KISS guitaristand vocalist Paul Stanley tweeted. "Speechless. A trailblazer and someone who always gave everything to his music. A good soul. I remember first seeing him playing at the Starwood in 1976 and he WAS Eddie Van Halen. So shocked and sad. My condolences to Wolfie and the family."

During his time as a guitarist with the rock n' roll band named after him, he revolutionized the way people played the instrument. In the songs he wrote for Van Halen and other artists and bands, Eddie changed the music industry with his combination techniques that included tapping, use of the whammy bar and pitch harmonics.

He is among the greats like Jimi Hendrix, Les Paul, Jimmy Page, B.B. King, George Harrison, Keith Richards and Eric Clapton in terms of his virtuosity on the instrument and his use of sound. Even more incredibly, he didn't know how to read music at all, proving music is a language that is not confined to boundaries such as notation and staffs, and that anyone can master it, regardless of schooling or education.

Born in Amsterdam in 1955, Eddie came from a musical family. His father Jan was a respected musician who played the clarinet, saxophone and piano. In the early 1960s, Eddie's family moved to California and he and his brother Alex became Americans. Their musical education started while there – and at the time, they didn't speak English.

He was taught Mozart and Bach on the piano, but as mentioned, he couldn't read the music, and taught himself by paying attention to his teacher's technique and using his ears. He went on to win piano competitions and moved on to playing drums while Alex taught himself guitar.

Alex's playing eventually inspired him to learn that instrument, and the brothers founded their first band together while still in elementary school. Alex moved to drums. Their influences were Led Zeppelin and Cream. Their first group broke up, and in 1972, they formed what would become Van Halen, changing the group's name to that two years later. It didn't take long before they were selling out Sunset Strip club Whisky a Go Go, famous for giving bands such as The Doors their start.

Van Halen's original lineup of Alex Van Halen, David Lee Roth, Michael Anthony and Eddie. Photo: © Fin Costello/Redferns

Their self-titled debut album came out in 1978, with singer David Lee Roth and bassist Michael Anthony rounding out the lineup. They had massive success with songs such as "Runnin' with the Devil," but it was extremely short "Eruption" that helped revolutionize guitar. While Eddie didn't invent tapping (that's arguably Steve Hackett in Genesis), his use of the technique on that track was unlike anything else at the time.

In 1982, Eddie acquired further success when he collaborated with Michael Jackson on "Beat It." His solo on the track has become as legendary as his playing with Van Halen. Eddie charged no fee for the performance and initially thought he was the subject of a prank call when producer Quincy Jones contacted him and asked him to appear on the track.

"I was a complete fool, according to the rest of the band, our manager and everyone else," he said in 2007. "I was not used. I knew what I was doing – I don't do something unless I want to do it."

During the recording of that solo, the incredible sound produced by Eddie's guitar caused one of the speakers in the studio to ignite, as ever a poetic rock 'n' roll metaphor there was. The song appropriately burned up the charts and ended up at number one.

Eddie's success with Van Halen continued through the '80s, even through the turbulent years that saw David leave the band and be replaced by Sammy Hagar. With Sammy, the band went on to win their first GRAMMY. He went on to score 13 number ones on Billboard's Mainstream Rock chart with the band and is rightly a member of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

In recent years, Van Halen's lineup included Wolfgang on bass. Photo: &co

In the '80s, Eddie also married actress Valerie Bertinelli after meeting her at one of the band's shows in Louisiana. The two had Wolfgang together, and divorced in 2005. He later remarried in 2009, getting hitched to actress and stunt woman (and later Van Halen publicist) Janie Liszewski. In 2006, when Michael left the band, Eddie announced Wolfgang would join on bass.

Last year, Eddie revealed his difficult battle with throat cancer to the world, saying that he'd been fighting it since 2015. He had had his share of health struggles since 1995, having come down with avascular necrosis, a condition in which bone tissue dies. It led to him having a hip replaced in 1999. His more recent battle with cancer also wasn't his first bout with a form of the illness. He had been treated for tongue cancer in 2000 and needed some of that organ removed a few years later.

Music will never be the same now that Eddie is gone, and it wouldn't have been the same had he not gifted us with such incredible playing. May he rest in peace.

Don't miss a beat with HELLO! Canada's Daily Hits newsletter, your daily dose of royal and celebrity news, fashion, weddings and more. CLICK HERE to sign up for free!