Eddie Van Halen, influential guitarist of rock band Van Halen, dead of cancer at age 65

October 6, 2020

by Carla Hay

On October 6, 2020, Eddie Van Halen, who is widely considered one of the most influential rock guitarists of all time, died at St. John’s Hospital in Santa Monica, California, after a long battle with lung cancer and throat cancer. He was 65. His son and only child, Wolfgang Van Halen, made the announcement on his official Twitter account. Wolfgang’s statement read: “I can’t believe I’m having to write this, but my father, Edward Lodwijk Van Halen, has lost his long arduous battle with cancer this morning. 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.”

Born on January 26, 1955, Eddie and his older brother Alex Van Halen were Dutch immigrants whose parent settled in Pasadena, California, in 1962. Their father Jan was a musician, and their mother Eugenia was a homemaker. The Van Halen brothers (who eventually became U.S. citizens) formed their namesake band in Pasadena in 1972. By 1974, the band’s classic lineup consisted of lead guitarist Eddie Van Halen, lead singer David Lee Roth, drummer Alex Van Halen and bassist Michael Anthony. Eddie was a self-taught guitarist whose “fretboard tapping” style of playing was considered hugely influential to countless guitar players.

Van Halen’s self-titled 1978 album was an instant smash, yielding the hit singles “Runnin’ With the Devil” and a cover version of The Kinks’ “You Really Got Me.” The band went on to have numerous multiplatinum albums and hit singles for the rest of its career, most notably the “1984” album (which had the No. 1 single “Jump”) and 1991’s Grammy-winning “For Unlawful Carnal Knowledge” album, which was best known for the chart-topping song “Right Now.”

Roth parted ways with the band in 1985, when he launched a solo career, and he was replaced by Sammy Hagar, who was fired in 1996. Van Halen announced a reunion with Roth in 1996, but that reunion did not turn into an album or tour, as Roth acrimoniously split with the band again. Gary Cherone was Van Halen’s lead singer from 1996 to 1999. Cherone recorded only one album with the band: 1998’s “Van Halen III,” which was a commercial disappointment, compared to other Van Halen albums.

Eddie underwent hip-replacement surgery in 1999, which led to the band Van Halen going on hiatus until 2003, when Hagar reunited with the band. Hagar was fired again in 2005. Bass player Anthony was fired in 2006, and he was replaced by Eddie’s son Wolfgang.

Eddie married actress Valerie Bertinelli in 1981. Their son Wolfgang was born in 1991. The couple officially divorced in 2007, after being separated since 2001. Eddie married publicist Janie Liszewski in 2009. In several media interviews, Eddie (who was a recovering alcoholic and cocaine addict) credited Liszewski with helping him stay clean and sober since 2008. However, he still admitted to indulging in his addiction to nicotine.

In 2007, Van Halen was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and reunited with Roth for a successful tour that launched later that year. Roth stayed in Van Halen’s final lineup, which toured off and on until 2015. Van Halen’s last studio album of new songs was 2012’s “A Different Kind of Truth.” In 2012, Eddie was diagnosed with diverticulitis. His battle with cancer had been going on for several years before it was officially made public in 2019.