Eddie Van Halen, Guitar Legend, Dead at 65

Photo: Paul Natkin/Getty Images

Eddie Van Halen, the guitarist and co-founder of his namesake band, has died at 65, his son, Wolf Van Halen, confirmed on Twitter. “I can’t believe I’m having to write this, but my father Edward Lodewijk Van Halen, has lost his long and arduous battle with cancer this morning,” Wolf, who joined Van Halen on bass in 2006, wrote on October 6. “He was the best father I could ever ask for. Every moment I 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.” Eddie’s family immigrated to the U.S. from the Netherlands in 1962, when he was 7 years old. He formed his first band with his older brother, Alex, in elementary school; by 1972, they formed the band that would become Van Halen and began performing around Los Angeles.

With Eddie on guitar, Alex on drums, David Lee Roth on vocals, and Michael Anthony on bass, Van Halen pioneered a charismatic, pop-inflected style of heavy metal on their debut album, Van Halen, in 1978. That record was eventually certified diamond in the U.S., a feat the band would match with its sixth album, 1984. Van Halen released 12 albums in total, all of which featured Eddie, and was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 2007.

Eddie Van Halen was widely regarded as one of the best guitarists of all time, and he became the template for a rock-star guitarist in the ’70s and ’80s. In his 2018 Vulture ranking of every Van Halen song, author Chuck Klosterman wrote of Eddie:

Eddie Van Halen was the most inventive guitar player of his generation, but he’s also a surprisingly stern formalist. Rarely does EVH’s music dabble in prog or inaccessibility; instead, he jams all his unorthodoxy into the claustrophobic confines of a traditional four-piece rock configuration, performed at a volume typically reserved for volcanoes. The core riffs are sophisticated but also remarkably minimalist; the solos are overstuffed and a little self-derivative, but no two are identical and none of them are easy. The downside to this formalism is a superficial sense that many of these songs are interchangeable. The upside is a depth of creativity that takes years to untangle, delivered in a working-class package that is roughly the musical equivalent of eating hot pizza and drinking cold beer.

Eddie had experienced bouts of tongue and throat cancer since 2000, with TMZ reporting in 2019 that he’d been receiving throat-cancer treatments for the previous five years.

Eddie Van Halen, Guitar Legend, Dead at 65