WASHINGTON — The world of music has lost a virtuoso. Guitar god Eddie Van Halen passed away Tuesday following a long battle with throat cancer. He was 65.
Born in Amsterdam, Edward Lodewijk Van Halen was raised with his brother, Alex, in Pasadena, California. Where he was introduced to music with piano lessons at 6 years old. A bit of a genius even then, he revealed in an interview that he was never able to read music. He learned by watching, listening and improvising. Doing it so well that he was able to win piano competitions. Luckily for us, piano bored him, so he switched instruments. First to drums, then guitar which held his attention, and eventually ours, for the rest of his life.
Eddie and Alex formed their first band in fourth grade, Eddie on guitar, Alex on drums, performing for students during lunch in elementary school. This set up would define their lives for over 50 years. Following high school, they played around Los Angeles for a few years before Warner Brothers offered the brothers a recording contract in 1977, and in '79 they released their first album, introducing the world to Van Halen.
Right out of the gate, it was an incredible run. Five top selling albums, each driven by Ed’s song writing, blistering guitar solos, and the flamboyant showmanship of lead singer David Lee Roth.
This culminating in the album 1984, and the band’s hit "Jump," their only song to go No. 1 on the charts.
Ask anybody who was around then how much playtime that song got. It was everywhere, and interestingly, it featured Eddie in a return to the piano. These achievements, along with his playing on Michael Jacksons "Beat It," leveled Eddie up from lead guitarist, to icon.
Roth left the band in 1985, but that didn’t slow them in the least. Taking on a new lead singer, they had four more platinum-selling albums over the next 11 years and are tied for the most platinum-selling albums by an American band. Did I mention their Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, too?
Eddie is thought of as one of the best, if not the best, rock guitarists in history, leaving behind a legacy of millions of fans and an untold number of artists that he inspired with his innovation and his play. And he did it all with a smile on his face.
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