It's not as shocking as the news that Randy Rhoads died in a fiery crash after the plane he was riding in buzzed Ozzy Osbourne's tour bus. Or that the helicopter Stevie Ray Vaughan took a last-minute ride in went down on a foggy mountainside after a concert.
But the news that Eddie Van Halen has passed away is still something that's very hard to fathom. Partly because he was just so damn great.
According to a tweet sent out by Van Halen's son Wolfgang, the 65-year-old rocker succumbed to cancer.
“I can’t believe I’m having to write this, but my father, Edward Lodewijk Van Halen, lost his long and arduous battle with cancer this morning,” wrote Wolfgang. "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.”
For fans of hard rock, few musicians were held in higher esteem than Eddie Van Halen. The band he put together in Pasadena with his brother Alex on drums, Michael Anthony on bass, and the irrepressible David Lee Roth on vocals, took the world by storm with its self-titled 1978 debut album. The quartet was a formidable team, but there's no denying that Eddie's fierce guitar playing--infused with his mindboggling, neck-tapping technique--was what made it so special.
As a band, Van Halen were about as successful as you could get, selling millions of albums and touring the world. There was no stopping the brotherly core that first acquired its love of music at an early age.
“I think music is one of those things that’s in your blood,” Alex Van Halen told me in 1995. “Even before we played instruments we were drawn to the marches that my dad, who was in the air force band, would bring home on records. Ed and I would march around the table for hours on end. You kinda realize that music can be hypnotic; it can change your perspective on time.”
Strangely enough, after the brothers had studied classical piano for 10 years at their mom’s urging, it was Alex Van Halen who first picked up the guitar, while Eddie handled the drum kit.
“After about a week or two we decided to change," said Van Halen, "because I didn’t care for the guitar and Ed didn’t care for drums. I had taken flamenco lessons and all that, and I could read, but there was no connection between me and the instrument. To me it was just a piece of wood with metal strings. But when Ed picked it up, he just connected with it instantly; it was as if it was meant to be there all along.”
Eddie Van Halen is survived by his second wife, the band’s former publicist Janie Liszewski, whom he married in 2009, and his son.