Guitar God. In every concert he plays, the fans chant his name. “Eddie! Eddie! Eddie!” He is one of the most respected and loved guitar players of his generation, and is now mentioned among the greats like Eric Clapton and Jimmi Hendrix. Eddie Van Halen has reached the top of the guitar world, but the long road of hard partying on his way to numerous hit records, has finally caught up with him. Recently Eddie checked in to a hospital to undergo treatment for cancer symptoms in his mouth, specifically on his tongue. A heavy drinker and chain smoker, Van Halen has tried to curb his bad habits in later life, but it seems his early excesses have taken their toll before he could drop them.
Eddie and brother Alex were born in Holland. At a young age the family immigrated to the United States and settled in Southern California. Both parents loved music, and at the age of seven the brothers were trained in classic piano. But Eddie and Alex wanted to play rock and roll. Eddie soon bought himself a drum set with the money he earned from a paper route. Brother Alex began taking flamenco guitar lessons, but he secretly eyed Eddie’s drums. Eddie practiced on his drums and tried to learn the songs of the day, but his job cut into his practice time. While Eddie was working his paper route, Alex would come in and play Eddie’s drums. Alex practiced on Eddie’s drums so much that he soon became the better drummer. Eddie decided he needed to learn another instrument. The guitar became his instrument of choice, and as they say, the rest is history.
Eddie went out and bought his first guitar for $70. He taught himself to play by listening to records and copying what he heard. Eric Clapton became his main influence, and soon Eddie was able to play every one of Clapton’s solos. By the time high school was over, both Eddie and Alex were very good with their instruments, and had been in a few bands. They eventually met David Lee Roth and Michael Anthony, and the four of them formed a band called Mammoth. The name wasn’t to be; they soon found out there was already another band billing itself as Mammoth, so they had to find a new name. After kicking around a few ideas, they decided to use the last name of the brothers, and Van Halen was born.
In a club one night, Ted Templeton, a Warner Bros. Records producer, caught Van Halen’s act and signed them immediately. Soon their self-titled album debuted, and it has been nothing but success ever since. Powered by Eddie’s hot guitar licks and the singing style of David Lee Roth and later Sammy Hagar, Van Halen produced a long list of hit songs and numerous number one hits. Some of their more popular songs include Jump, Right Now, Runnin’ With The Devil, Panama, Hot For Teacher, and many more. Their albums have gone multi platinum, and they have established a loyal fan base that will pack any concert venue they play.
Van Halen became a group that styled its own distinct sound, a sound powered by Eddie’s unique guitar licks. He played fierce solos and soon became known for tapping, a technique where he would tap the fret board with his playing fingers while making notes with his fingering hand. The tapping would produce numerous quick notes that drove his solos. Eddie Van Halen became a role model for modern guitarists, regardless of their tastes and preferences. His talent and skill were unquestioned, and he demonstrated a dazzling array of techniques, from simple riffs to extended solos filled with intricate fretwork.
With superstardom, Van Halen fell into the trap many rock stars do. The money and fame soon brought a decadent lifestyle. Drinking, women, parties, Van Halen experienced them all. For Eddie, it was the drinking that especially got a hold of him. He soon became a heavy daily drinker. The drinking habit became so bad, that he would perform concerts drunk. He recalls that at one point in his career, he would get so drunk that all during the concert he would stand in one place…… because he was too inebriated to move. He also recalls that during his heavy drinking period he could not remember many of the concerts he performed. He battled his alcoholism for many decades before he got sober.
Eddie married actress Valerie Bertinelli, and wanted to start a family. A desire to be a good role model for his new son Wolfgang, was the catalyst to get clean. Eddie soon enrolled in rehab, and he says he has now been clean and sober since October of 1994. Even though he was now free of the drinking, Eddie would pay for his years of excess. The affects of that drinking may have been the cause for surgery he had to undergo on his right hip, which was replaced because of a degenerative condition that may have been linked to excessive alcohol use.
The second health concern that hit Eddie was a diagnosis of cancer “symptoms” in his mouth in the early 2000’s, also thought to be a result of his heavy drinking and smoking. Eddie has had a long habit of smoking cigarettes throughout his adult life. The official statement from the treatment center reads, “He does not have cancer. After visiting with doctors, he is planning to begin an outpatient clinical trial to prevent cancer … He did not have an operation at our facility.” That statement was actually inaccurate, and not uncommon when celebrities are concerned about their public image, or impact on their careers an illness might have. The treatment center said, “He will begin an outpatient clinical trial to prevent cancer. In the clinical trial, Eddie will be able to come and go, and won’t be admitted to the hospital. A clinical trial means that whatever treatment he is receiving, it is a protocol under study; not a standard treatment.” Although not much information was being released, it is thought that Eddie has tongue cancer. Ultimately Eddie released a statement saying, “Although it’s hard to say when, there’s a good chance I will be cancer-free in the near future.” Now having essentially admitted that he has cancer, Eddie found that his reasons for wishing to keep it private from his many fans were unnecessary. He has a wide following of loyal fans who are genuinely concerned about his situation, and were extremely supportive of his efforts to overcome cancer. Now many years since this event, it is clear that his fan base was not impacted by this issue, and that their love for his music and persona remains as solid as ever.
Side note: The Oral Cancer Foundation applauds Eddie’s decision to talk about his cancer. It is only through public awareness, and knowledge of the risk factors, that this disease can be brought down from its high ranking as a killer. When someone of Eddie’s celebrity talks openly, his voice will be heard by his millions of fans. Besides being one of rocks elite guitar greats, this makes him an extraordinary individual in a much broader sense.