LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Eddie Van Halen, considered one of rock music’s greatest guitar players and a founding member of the hugely successful rock band named after him and his drummer brother, died of cancer on Tuesday, his son said on social media. He was 65.
“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,” Wolfgang Van Halen, a bass player who played with his father in the band, said in the tweet.
“He was the best father I could ever ask for,” Wolfgang Van Halen said on social media. “Every moment I’ve shared with him on and off stage was a gift.”
Eddie and his brother Alex founded Van Halen in the early 1970s in Los Angeles and the hard rock band became a staple of the famed Sunset Strip before releasing their eponymous debut album in 1978.
The album shot to number 19 on the Billboard charts, becoming one of the most successful debuts of the decade.
The ongoing conflict between the guitarist and the antic frontman Roth — who reportedly took exception to Van Halen’s extracurricular work, which included jaw-dropping lead guitar chores on Michael Jackson’s ubiquitous 1983 single “Beat It” — led the singer to split with the act after its elaborate and wildly successful 1984 tour.
Such a defection would likely have split a less popular band, but Van Halen found even greater sales after ex-Montrose vocalist Sammy Hagar replaced Roth. Between 1986 and 1995, the group released four consecutive No. 1 albums.
However, Hagar ankled Van Halen after a tiff about the group’s planned greatest hits package. Eddie Van Halen brokered a truce with former singer Roth long enough to complete a pair of new tracks with the vocalist for the 1996 collection, but after another wrangle, a planned reunion with the singer broke down, and Gary Cherone, vocalist for the Boston pop-metal unit Extreme, signed on for a single album, “Van Halen III” (1998), which tallied comparatively meagre sales.
Eddie Van Halen was dogged by personal and health issues that would intermittently interfere with his work in music over the course of the next decade. A chronic joint problem, exacerbated by his reckless onstage style, forced him to undergo hip replacement surgery in 1999. The onset of cancer — likely the result of heavy smoking — led to the surgical removal of part of his tongue in 2000.
The recording of three songs with Hagar for the two-disc compilation “The Best of Both Worlds” led to a lucrative 2004 reunion tour with Van Halen’s second lead singer. However, the alliance proved to be temporary, and it marked the end of both Hagar’s and bassist Anthony’s association with the group (though they would serve as representatives at the band’s 2007 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction, which the Van Halens and Roth declined to attend).
After years of false starts, Van Halen reconvened in 2007 with Roth as the frontman and Wolfgang Van Halen, Eddie’s 16-year-old son, replacing Anthony on bass. Though a tour grossed more than $90 million, it was plagued by rumours of inter-band strife.
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