Stop the presses. Yes, the global news cycle is a whirlwind right now (or a dumpster fire, depending on how you view it). However, everything else pales in comparison to the passing of one rock’s greatest guitarists. Eddie Van Halen died today.
News of his death was announced by his son, Wolfgang, through Twitter on Tuesday, October 6. Eddie lost a years-long battle to cancer. He was 65 years old.
“He was the best father I could ever ask for. Every moment I’ve shared with him on and off stage was a gift,” wrote Wolfgang, who also plays as the bassist in the band Van Halen. According to TMZ, Eddie was with his family when he passed, including Wolfgang, wife Janie, and brother (and Van Halen drummer) Alex.
— Wolf Van Halen (@WolfVanHalen) October 6, 2020
Eddie and Alex were the bedrock of the eponymous band, which fronted two exemplary lead singers — David Lee Roth and Sammy Hagar — during its storied run. The brotherly duo’s rock contributions spread worldwide across almost 50 years, 12 studio albums, millions of copies collected, and countless concerts.
Eddie was most famous for his articulate tapping style and shredding solos. In honor of his legacy, below are some of our favorite Eddie Van Halen moments.
“Eruption” by Eddie Van Halen (1978)
“Eruption” is peak Eddie. Not only is it one of the greatest guitar solos of all time, but this particular performance from 1986 showcases two of the best things about seeing him live: his fun on-stage presence and his over-the-top attire. Just check out those pink pants.
“Ice Cream Man” by Van Halen (1978)
In addition to “Eruption,” you’ll also find “Ice Cream Man” on Van Halen’s 1978 self-titled debut. This cover of a John Brim original starts off with the classic blues sound, but Eddie’s guitar soars in about halfway through. The tune is lesser-known compared to the rest of the band’s discography, but that solo remains a beautiful demonstration of Eddie’s range. It’s got everything from tapping to bends and whammy bar artistry.
Eddie Van Halen’s Frankenstrat (1978-2020)
This isn’t so much a moment as it is an icon born of an icon. Eddie’s unique guitar was a symbol throughout his career. Referred to as Frankenstein or Frankenstrat, the instrument was Eddie’s attempt to merge qualities of Gibson and Fender guitars. Various versions and replicas have been crafted throughout the years, but his early partnership with Kramer Guitars and the manufacturer’s subsequent work for Eddie is probably the most notable (although they are easier to find now through EVH Gear). Eddie himself would use different iterations, including the equally memorable black-and-yellow bumblebee.
“Beat It” by Michael Jackson (1982)
Among the contenders for most recognizable guitar riffs of all time, Eddie Van Halen’s work on “Beat It” might be the strongest. Although Michael Jackson’s famous song has a lot of memorable takeaways, from the red leather jacket to the fight-dance scene in the music video, “Beat It” wouldn’t be the same without Eddie — and not just because of the riff or the solo. In an interview with CNN in 2012, Eddie broke down how he actually changed a chunk of the tune (after getting permission from Quincy Jones, of course).
“Now in my mind, [Michael Jackson is] either going to have his bodyguards kick me out for butchering his song, or he’s going to like it. And so he gave it a listen, and he turned to me and went, ‘Wow, thank you so much for having the passion to not just come in and blaze a solo, but to actually care about the song, and make it better,'” Eddie recalled.
“Beat It” Live with The Jacksons (1984)
At a Texas concert during the Victory Tour of The Jacksons, Eddie joined Michael and his brothers on stage to play the “Beat It” solo. This serendipitous moment (brought on by the lucky fact that Van Halen happened to have a show scheduled in Texas at the same time) was one of the only times they performed it together live.
“Hot for Teacher” by Van Halen (1984)
How many mainstream hits — especially mainstream hits that still get radio play today — can you say start with about one minute of instrumentals? Alex’s ripping drum solo leads into a shred-fest lead by Eddie. “Hot for Teacher” is one of the band’s biggest songs and a perfect representation of their musicianship and creativity, particularly during the early years of MTV.
“Panama” music video by Van Halen (1984)
Remember when we mentioned those on-stage outfits? Nothing puts the whole band’s fashion on display like the music video for “Panama.” It also brandishes the greatest hairdos, dance moves, and David Lee Roth high-kicks. “Panama,” “Hot for Teacher,” and “Jump” are all featured on the 1984 album, the last to include the original lineup with David Lee Roth.
“Everybody Wants Some” in Better Off Dead (1985)
Speaking of fun times with Eddie Van Halen, we’re reliving this hilarious scene from John Cusack’s cult 1980s flick Better Off Dead. The claymation hamburger is like a delicious meaty mash-up of Eddie and David Lee Roth, and we’re here for it. For more nostalgia from that time, check out Richard Linklater’s Everybody Wants Some.
“Humans Being” in Twister (1996)
Van Halen recorded this song for the blockbuster movie (and it was the last recording during Sammy Hagar’s original run with the band). While it’s not one of the greatest or most commercially successful tunes from the band, it does create an amazing scene from the actual film. Most of us aren’t storm chasers, but I think we can all related to jamming Van Halen while driving too fast.
Eddie Van Halen on Drums
In a 2015 interview with Billboard, Eddie reminisces about how he and Alex were originally studying piano. Following a rock ‘n roll awakening, the brothers started learning drums and guitar — however, Alex was originally on guitar and Eddie was on drums. Thankfully, Alex’s drum skills quickly passed Eddie, so the latter switched to strings. The rest is rock history, but it is interesting to think about an alternate version of Van Halen.
Unfortunately, Eddie is not the first legend lost in 2020. We recently saw the passing of Justin Townes Earle, The Roots’ Malik B., and Fleetwood Mac’s Peter Green. A special thanks to Jeffrey Smith, Bryan Reesman, and Kat Bein, who helped curate these Eddie Van Halen moments.