Eddie Van Halen, one of the most groundbreaking guitarists in rock and roll history, died today after a long battle with cancer. He was 65 years old.
His son, Wolfgang Van Halen, confirmed the news on Twitter. "He was the best father I could ever ask for. Every moment I've shared with him on and off stage was a gift," he said.
Former Van Halen lead singer Sammy Hagar also commented with a photo of the duo. "Heartbroken and speechless," he wrote. "My love to the family."
Along with his brother Alex on drums, Van Halen revitalized hard rock for a generation, inspiring countless fans to pick up an instrument and mimic his solos. Van Halen's self-titled debut, issued in 1978, crystallized the group's first classic line-up with powerhouse vocalist David Lee Roth and bassist Michael Anthony. Van Halen sold more than 10 million copies and ranks on Rolling Stone's list of the 500 greatest albums of all time.
Van Halen was idolized for his majestic style of tapping the frets of his guitar - which he popularized but did not invent, crediting Led Zeppelin's Jimmy Page with the technique - as well as an oft-imitated but never duplicated tone. At one point, he held three separate patents on guitar modifications. Van Halen were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2007.
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Beginning with 1979's Van Halen II, each of the band's studio albums reached the Top 10 of the Billboard Hot 100. Eddie Van Halen gained exposure across multiple genres in 1982 when he lent a solo to "Beat It," the chart-topping single from Michael Jackosn's bestselling album Thriller. 1984, released that same year, became their second album to sell 10 million copies and featured their biggest hit, the chart-topping "Jump." After Roth departed the band the following year, Van Halen recruited singer Sammy Hagar and continued their hot streak, issuing four consecutive #1 albums between 1986 and 1995.
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Hagar left Van Halen in 1996, after which the group briefly reunited with Roth before recruiting Extreme vocalist Gary Cherone for Van Halen III in 1998. Hagar returned for a final tour in 2004; three years later, the Van Halen brothers once again reunited with Roth. With Eddie's son Wolfgang - his only son with actress Valerie Bertinelli, his wife from 1981 to 2007 - replacing Anthony on bass, Van Halen embarked on several successful tours and issued A Different Kind of Truth in 2012.
Edward Lodewijk Van Halen was born in Nijmegen, The Netherlands in 1955. The son of a clarinetist, he emigrated with his family to Pasadena, California when he was seven years old. "We came here with approximately $50 and a piano, and we didn’t speak the language," he said in 2015. "Now look where we are. If that’s not the American dream, what is?"