Inside Eddie Van Halen's Rock Star Life

Rock legend Eddie Van Halen — the guitarist and founder of Van Halen, one of the most popular rock 'n' roll acts of all time — has died at age 65. Eddie's son Wolfgang Van Halen announced his death in a heart-wrenching post on Twitter on Oct. 6, 2020. He died of throat cancer after what his son called a "long and arduous battle."

While Eddie is known for his brilliant finger-work on his electric guitars and the patented devices he would invent for his dazzling rifts, his death has reignited interest in his personal life, including his relationship with ex-wife Valerie Bertinelli (who is the mother to Wolfgang). Sweetly enough, it seems that both Bertinelli and Wolfgang were by his side during his final moments. In a touching tribute on Instagram, Bertinelli wrote, "40 years ago my life changed forever when I met you. You gave me the one true light in my life, our son, Wolfgang."

Between being a Grammy-winning rock star and proud father to son Wolfgang (who joined the band in 2007 to replace bassist Michael Anthony), one would think Eddie Van Halen's life was a stroll through the park. Despite his superstardom, the grass was not always greener for the talented guitarist. Here is a closer look back at the rock star's life.

Eddie Van Halen made music his entire life

Eddie Van Halen was born in the Netherlands in 1955 and moved to California with his parents when he was 7. He began studying music with his brother, Alex Van Halen. Eddie was obsessed with Eric Clapton in high school and also appreciated Black Sabbath and Deep Purple (via Billboard). He and Alex linked up with Michael Anthony and David Lee Roth in 1972, forming Van Halen in Pasadena, Calif.

Van Halen, although with constantly rotating band members, went on to produce 12 studio albums spanning five decades. Eddie made shredding on his guitar look easy, and for him, it might have been. "I do whatever I want. I don't really think about it too much... Everything is pretty spontaneous," he told Guitar Player in 1978. Eddie is regarded as a trailblazer in music; not just for the success of Van Halen, but for the alterations he made to his instruments.

Although he wasn't touring in his final years of life, Eddie was still deeply involved in the music industry with his guitar company EVH. In a 2016 Total Guitar interview, Eddie said modifying his instruments was a "necessity" that allowed him to create the unique sounds for which he became known. Despite his success, his musical modifications were pure passion projects. "I guess it's a wonderful feeling that people like the stuff we design," he said, "But even if they didn't, I would still use it!"

Life was sometimes 'on fire' for Eddie Van Halen

While the band Van Halen was dealing with years of internal tensions between disagreeing members (which led to the band having three different lead singers), Eddie Van Halen was fighting his own inner battles. The turn of the century proved to be a troubling time for the "Beat It" guitar soloist. Within a handful of years, Eddie separated from actress Valerie Bertinelli after nearly two decades of marriage (they later divorced in 2007), Van Halen split with Warner Bros., and in 1999, Eddie underwent a hip replacement, as reported by the New York Times. The following year, he would receive his cancer diagnosis.

Eddie was simultaneously dealing with alcohol and drug addiction, for which he did not enter rehab until after Van Halen's 2007 comeback tour. "I didn't drink to party," he told Billboard in 2015. "Alcohol and cocaine were private things to me. I would use them for work. The blow keeps you awake and the alcohol lowers your inhibitions." At the time of his death, Eddie had been sober since 2008.

Eddie Van Halen had a long fight with cancer

Eddie Van Halen was first diagnosed with cancer in 2001, and he was declared cancer-free in 2002 after getting part of his tongue removed. He was then able to resume his normal life and toured with Van Halen twice more. However, TMZ reported that the rock star had been secretly flying back and forth between Germany and the United States for treatment for about five years prior to his death. TMZ also reported Eddie was hospitalized in November 2019 due to "intestinal issues and abdominal pain" caused by a poor reaction to his cancer medications.

While fans longed for another Van Halen reunion, original lead singer David Lee Roth was not too optimistic about the thought, following rumors of Eddie's declining health. "I don't know that Eddie is ever really going to rally for the rigors of the road again," he told the New York Times in the summer of 2020.

Ironically enough, Eddie told Billboard that his passion may have also been his downfall. "I used metal picks — they're brass and copper — which I always held in my mouth, in the exact place where I got the tongue cancer," he explained in 2015. "Plus, I basically live in a recording studio that's filled with electromagnetic energy." 

While his passing is tragic, it seems that Eddie Van Halen lived a life he loved and was surrounded by those who loved him until the end.

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