Who Was Eddie Van Halen?
Guitarist and singer Eddie Van Halen formed the band Van Halen in 1974 with his brother Alex. His quick-fingered guitar riffs and singer David Lee Roth's onstage antics caught the eye of Kiss guitarist Gene Simmons in 1977, and he funded and produced their first recording session. The band's sixth album, 1984, featured smash hits "Panama" and "Jump," and made the hard rock quartet and household name.
Edward Lodewijk Van Halen was born on January 26, 1955, in Nijmegen, the Netherlands, and moved with his family to California in the early 1960s. While growing up in Pasadena, Eddie and his brother, Alex, took classical piano lessons, playing mostly improvised classical, and Eddie, in particular, proved to be an early musical standout. As teenagers, Eddie switched to guitar and Alex to drums, leaving classical music behind and starting a rock band called Mammoth.
In 1974, the Van Halen brothers hooked up with vocalist David Lee Roth and bassist Michael Anthony to form Van Halen. Within a few years, the band, on the back of Eddie's signature guitar sound and Roth's equally unique vocals, had become hugely popular in the Los Angeles rock scene.
The band got a break in 1977 when Kiss bassist Gene Simmons discovered them at a local club and financed and recorded their first recording session. Soon after, Van Halen signed with Warner Bros, and in 1978, Van Halen put out its self-titled debut album, which featured the hit single "Runnin' With the Devil." The combination of Eddie 's electric guitar riffs and Roth's tongue-in-cheek antics launched the album to platinum status within six months of its release.
During the next few years, Van Halen became one of the hardest working and most profitable bands in the recording industry, releasing a string of multi-platinum albums in quick succession; 1979's Van Halen II, 1980's Women and Children First, 1981's Fair Warning and 1982's Diver Down. But true superstar status did not come until the release of 1984, which showcased the now classic mega-hits "Jump," "Panama" and "Hot for Teacher," with videos for each burning up MTV.
The Band Breaks Up (a Few Times)
Despite, or because of, their newfound stardom, during this time, tension began to grow between Roth and the other band members. And in 1985, after recording his own successful solo album, Roth left the band to be replaced by former Montrose frontman Sammy Hagar. Showing a remarkable resiliency, Van Halen put out several successful albums with Hagar as frontman, including 1986's 5150 and 1991's For Unlawful Carnal Knowledge. In 1993, the band released its first double-live album, Van Halen Live: Right Here, Right Now.
By the mid-1990s, though, tension resurfaced. Eddie had a history of alcohol abuse, but the new decade found him sober, and the newly clean-and-sober Eddie and the unrepentant wild man Hagar butted heads continually. In the wake of these clashes, Hagar's last Van Halen record would be 1995's Balance. However, he returned to the band briefly in 2004 for a greatest hits release and tour.
Shortly after Hagar's departure, Roth returned for a much-publicized Van Halen reunion. But after recording two songs for a greatest hits album and making an appearance with the band at the MTV Music Awards, Roth left again. This time, he was replaced by Gary Cherone, formerly of the heavy metal band Extreme. Cherone's debut with the band, Van Halen III, was released in 1998, but slow sales ensured his departure.
Later Music and Personal Life
Eddie married actress Valerie Bertinelli in 1981, and their son, Wolfgang, was born in 1990. The couple announced their separation in July 2002, and they divorced four years later. In 2009, Van Halen married girlfriend of three years Janie Liszewski.
In 2012, Roth was back in the fold, and the band released A Different Kind of Truth, their first record with Roth since 1984. In May 2015, Van Halen opened the Billboard Music Awards with Roth, performing their old hit "Panama," a performance that would serve as a prelude to the band's 2015 summer tour.
Van Halen passed away on October 6, 2020, after a long battle with cancer.
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