Eddie Van Halen, guitar icon, dies at 65

The legendary shred pioneer and guitar innovator dies after a long battle with throat cancer.

Edward Van Halen has died at the age of 65. The legendary Van Halen guitarist and songwriter’s death was first reported by his son, Wolfgang, in a statement posted on Twitter on 7 October.

“I can’t believe I’m having to write this,” the statement read. “But my father, Edward Lodewijk Van Halen, has lost his long and 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.”

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Van Halen was first diagnosed with tongue cancer in 2000, but in 2019 it was revealed he had been battling throat cancer for the last five years. According to TMZ, which first broke news of his death, Van Halen died at St Johns Hospital in Santa Monica, California on 6 October surrounded by his family.

Born in Amsterdam in 1955, Van Halen moved to Pasadena, California in 1962 where he would form the band to which he leant his name (originally called Genesis, then Mammoth) in 1972 with brother Alex, while singer David Lee Roth and bassist Michael Anthony would join soon after.

Van Halen’s self-titled 1978 debut would become one of rock’s most successful debut albums on the back of classic tracks such as Ain’t Talkin’ ‘Bout Love, Runnin’ With The Devil and the instrumental tour de force Eruption. The album would pave the way for Van Halen to become one of the most commercially successful bands of the 80s, but more than that, would establish Edward Van Halen as one of the most influential and venerated guitarists of all time.

The guitarist’s spellbindingly technique would inspire scores of imitators throughout the decade and beyond, with his classical-inspired phrasing, heavy use of two-handed tapping and jaw-dropping virtuosity becoming benchmarks for every technical guitarist who followed him.

Just as influential as Van Halen’s technique was his gear choices, which the guitarist continued to hone and develop throughout his long career. Most famous of these is Frankenstein – a guitar EVH built from a Strat neck and body made by Wayne Charvel, paired with a potted Gibson PAF pickup and the then relatively uncommon Floyd Rose vibrato.

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The guitar would set the template for every hot-rodded S-type that came after, while the ‘striped’ finish would become a hallmark that Van Halen continued to use on his gear all the way up to his current EVH Brand guitars.

Figures from across the guitar world have been paying tribute to Van Halen, including Black Sabbath guitarist Tony Iommi who tweeted, “I’m just devastated to hear the news of the passing of my dear friend Eddie Van Halen. He fought a long and hard battle with his cancer right to the very end. Eddie was one of a very special kind of person, a really great friend. Rest In Peace my dear friend till we meet again.”

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