Eddie Van Halen had an amazing gift that came with a curse. He could play guitar like no one else, but the demons inside his head were always there taunting him to do the most despicable things.
1. He Was In A Vicious Cycle
Everyone always talks about Eddie Van Halen and his dark side. It seemed that his amazing guitar skills wouldn’t be there if he didn’t have these demons. So, for a good part of his life, Van Halen seemed stuck in a vicious cycle: Intense creativity followed by brutal bouts of hard partying and substance use.
The big question is—how did this cycle start? Of course, the answer lies in these facts.
2. He Really Was A Van
In case you thought that the “Van” in Eddie Van Halen’s name was just for fun, you should know that Van Halen started his life in the Netherlands where "Van” is as common as clogs and windmills. Yes, Van Halen was born on January 26, 1955 in Amsterdam to a Dutch musician and his Indo wife.
Shortly after Eddie’s birth, the family moved to the small town of Nijmegen, where Van Halen’s life was completely miserable.
3. He Had Vicious Tormentors
Because Van Halen and his brother Alex had mixed race parents, the other kids had no respect for them. In fact they called them “half-breeds”. When their parents saw how bad the boys had it, they made a dramatic decision. They decided to uproot the family and move to America—but this only led to a new series of challenges.
4. They Were Dirt Poor
In 1962, Eddie Van Halen and his family arrived in Pasadena, California where they had other relatives. His mother and father had to take menial jobs as they didn’t speak English—his mother became a maid, while his dad became a janitor. They were so poor, they had to live in one house with two other families.
Yes, life in America was going to be difficult, and once the boys started school, it only got worse.
5. They Treated Them Horribly
The Van Halen brothers arrived at school with almost no English. This was bad news because it meant that the other students thought much less of them. Van Halen’s classmates would take his homework and rip it up. They would even make him eat the sand in the playground. The family had moved across the world just to be in the same situation they’d been in before.
Van Halen needed a way out.
6. He Just Watched
To escape their bad treatment at school, both Eddie and Alex turned to music. Both boys took piano lessons from the age of about six. Eddie, however, didn’t actually learn to read music. Instead of learning notes and theory, Eddie watched recitals of musicians playing Mozart and Bach. Just from watching, Van Halen was able to play on his own.
Obviously Van Halen had a bit of genius in him. So, what would he do with it?
7. He Had A Plan
When he was about 10 years old, Van Halen entered the Long Beach City College piano competition and landed first prize. His dad could not have been more proud and saw a career in classical piano for his young son. Van Halen, on the other hand, had a different plan in mind. His inspirations weren’t Bach or Mozart. They were people with a little more edge.
8. He Played The Drums
Instead of the classical musician that his father loved, Van Halen found inspiration in bands like The Beatles and the Dave Clark Five. To dad’s disappointment, Alex also seemed more interested in rock music than the classics. When Alex turned around and bought a guitar, Eddie bought a drum kit.
One day, Alex started messing around on Eddie’s drums, and Eddie had a life changing realization.
9. He Was Too Good
Even though it was Eddie that had bought the drums, Alex sat down and gave them a try. When Eddie heard his brother play the famous drum solo from the Safaris’ song “Wipe Out," Eddie threw in the towel. His brother was so good at the drums that Eddie gave the set to Alex and picked up something else: an electric guitar.
The boys had finally figured out who was playing what. Now they had to figure out who they were playing for.
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10. They Took To The Stage
After practicing night and day with his electric guitar, Eddie decided it was time to perform. They got three other boys to join them, and they formed a band called The Broken Combs. Van Halen was just in the fourth grade at this point, so bar gigs were certainly out of the question.
Instead, The Broken Combs played at Pasadena’s Hamilton Elementary School. Sure it was no stadium concert, but it helped Van Halen make a decision: He had to become a professional musician.
11. She Locked It Up
While Van Halen’s father understood his son’s desire to be a musician, his mother didn’t. She thought that her husband should quit music and get a real job. When her son began getting into music, she did everything she could to discourage him. At one point she even locked his guitar away just so he wouldn’t practice.
She needn’t have worried too much. Her son was too afraid to perform anyway.
12. He Had Terrible Stage Fright
Eddie Van Halen kept performing as much as he could. There was a problem though: He had terrible stage fright. Since his dad had been a musician, he thought he’d ask him how to deal with being afraid. Dad had the solution and it was a shocking one: He handed his son a smoke and a drink.
This may have cured Van Halen’s stage fright, but it would eventually ruin his entire life.
13. He Wasn’t Sober
Van Halen began to enjoy the relaxed feeling that drinking brought him, and he was soon using it not just for his stage fright. He confessed later that he even showed up for his high school classes completely plastered. When one of his teachers found out, instead of helping his student quit, he actually just recommended different types of drinks he might like.
Sadly, this problem would be with Van Halen until his untimely end.
14. It Was A Tragedy
Van Halen’s dad was a true inspiration for Eddie and his brother Alex—especially since his mother was not. In 1972, his father was working a “real” job—as his wife likely called it—and dropped a trailer on his finger. The accident was brutal and his father found himself missing an entire finger.
From this point on, playing the clarinet was out. Van Halen had witnessed firsthand how quickly fate could take away one’s dreams. Instead of scaring him away, the accident made Van Halen want to succeed even more.
15. They Needed One Thing
Van Halen spent the next years honing his craft and finding inspiration in more and more bands. During that time, he was into bands like Cream and Led Zeppelin. In 1972, Van Halen and his brother were ready for their first adult band. They called it Mammoth, but they were short just one thing: a flamboyant lead singer.
Luckily they knew a guy from another band who was looking for a move. His name was David Lee Roth.
16. They Made A Change
Roth didn’t like the name Mammoth and suggested they call the band after the brothers’ last name: Van Halen. This seems weird because Roth, like many a rock star, had a huge ego and calling the band Van Halen put him in the background. But Roth said that he saw marketing possibilities with the name and insisted that they use it.
Whatever the reason, Van Halen was soon quickly taking off in the Los Angeles music scene.
17. He Went Backstage
Van Halen had a gig to open for the British band UFO at The Starwood in West Hollywood. They didn’t know it beforehand, but in the audience was glam rocker—and Kiss bassist—Gene Simmons. Simmons said that it only took him three songs by Van Halen before he knew he needed to talk to them.
Simmons went backstage and waited for Van Halen to finish their set. It was going to be a historical moment.
18. They Had Yogurt
When Van Halen and the guys walked off the stage, they saw a famous face waiting for them. With Kiss, Simmons had become a huge rock star, and he wanted to know what the boys in Van Halen had in mind for their future. One of the Van Halens proudly mentioned that they had a yogurt company that wanted to invest in the band. Simmons’ face dropped.
He thought it was the worst idea imaginable.
19. He Ripped Up The Contract
As it turned out, Simmons wanted to sign Van Halen to his record company. He even wrote up a contract and got the boys to sign it. This was certainly the break Van Halen had been waiting for. When the rest of Kiss heard about Simmons' idea, they were against it. Simmons didn’t want to go against his bandmates, so he ripped up the contract.
The guys had lost the yogurt company and Simmons. It was back to square one.
20. It Soared
Dejected by their missed opportunity with Kiss, Van Halen and his band worked on building their image. Soon, Warner Records took notice and offered the band a recording contract. In 1978, Van Halen’s first album came out and they called it…well…Van Halen. It was an instant sensation and managed to get to the #19 spot on the Billboard charts for pop music.
It didn’t take long until everyone knew the band's name.
21. They Thanked Him
The first thing that the Van Halen brothers did when they made it big was pay off a huge debt. They’d always been grateful to their father for standing by them as they pursued a musical career. When they finally had money, they did something amazing to thank their father: They bought him a boat. He was finally able to retire in the most relaxing way possible.
With his father wonderfully rewarded, Van Halen went for some rewards of his own.
22. She Went After Him
With intense fame comes something else: an elevated choice of romantic partners. Around that time there was no one more sought after than One Day at a Time’s Valerie Bertinelli. Van Halen likely had no idea he had a chance with the TV star, but it turned out he really did.
You see, Bertinelli had described herself to the media as being similar to her straight-laced character on One Day at a Time. It turned out, however, that Bertinelli had a wild side.
23. She Pursued Him
It only took a quick view of Van Halen on an album cover to convince Bertinelli that he was the man for her. She actually made the first move to get to meet him. In 1980, she went to one of his concerts and then—as only a TV star could—boldly went backstage and told the promoter of the show that she had a crush on Van Halen.
News then got to Van Halen himself: Bertinelli was waiting for him in a private room. There was one problem: He didn’t know who the heck she was.
24. They Were Nervous
Van Halen only knew that Bertinelli was some kind of TV star—but that was it. So, when he went to the private room to meet her, he was very nervous. As it turned out, Bertinelli was nervous too. In spite of all the anxiety, the two hit it off and a huge romance began. Before long, the love birds were making plans for a wedding.
Many of Van Halen’s fans thought it was strange. After all, he had tons of gorgeous groupies begging for him. Why would he settle down with this one?
25. He Had Many
From the outside, the marriage of Van Halen and Bertinelli looked pretty sweet. A much loved TV star and the power house guitar player of one of America’s favorite rock bands. The thing was, Van Halen had many loves: not just Bertinelli. When she joined him on tour, he would put her in a separate bedroom.
If you’re thinking it’s because he wanted to see other women, you're wrong. Van Halen had other reasons for wanting to be alone.
26. He Loved Three Things
While Bertinelli slept in the next room, Van Halen was with his other loves: his guitar, his drinks, and his lines. After partaking of these three loves, you’d think Van Halen would join his lovely wife in her room. Nope. More often than not, he would find the band’s manager Noel Monk, snuggle up with him, and gently fall asleep.
When Bertinelli wasn’t on tour, however, things were completely different.
27. He Had A Smorgasbord
While Bertinelli was around, Van Halen was a one woman guy. When she was away, however, this cat would play. Some described the groupies Van Halen fooled around with as a smorgasbord. And the guys shared the girls too. One trick was to get a willing female fan to remove her clothes and let the guys pour condiments all over her.
Sounds messy, but there was a much darker complication to these antics.
28. There Was A Downside
Of course, all this hedonistic behavior had its downside—doesn’t it always? The band members had to make frequent visits to the doctor to get rid of any nasty things they picked up from their amorous adventures. Penicillin was one thing they needed, but doctors also got them codeine and Percodan.
It was a non-stop party and it also went on the road.
29. He Screamed Down the Highway
Van Halen and his bandmates also loved cars. His vehicles of choice were often Italian ones and they were two things: expensive and fast. He and his bandmates were infamous for reaching speeds as high as 240 km/h (150 mph) while driving on Los Angeles roads. It was dangerous fun for these guys who had money and not a care in the world.
As it turned out, Van Halen was doing more than driving in these cars.
30. They Were In The Car
When an unidentified woman came forward with a paternity suit against Van Halen, it looked like trouble. When Van Halen managed to remember who she was, he had a good reason to believe he was not the father at all. He said whatever he did with that woman was in his car. And if it was in his car, he knew he only did things that could never result in a pregnancy.
Now he had to do two things. Take a paternity test, and tell his wife the truth.
31. She Had A Choice
The paternity test proved that Van Halen was not the father of the woman’s child. This fact, however, didn’t make Bertinelli feel any better. She had to face a harsh reality: She had a cheating husband on her hands. It seems she had two choices. Walk away from this party animal husband or stand by him.
For better or for worse, she picked the latter option and the two set their wedding day: April 1981.
32. He Liked Her A Certain Way
Once Van Halen and Bertinelli were husband and wife things didn’t really change that much. Sadly, Van Halen’s no-holds-barred lifestyle was rubbing off on his wife. When it seemed that Bertinelli was also getting into substance use, she had a sad explanation.
She said that Van Halen liked her to be skinny and the recreational use kept her from gaining weight. The vicious cycle had begun. The more fame he attained the harder he partied. Well, this next phone call would make Van Halen enter an even higher level of fame.
33. He Wanted To Hang Up
In 1982, Van Halen picked up the phone and was soon on the verge of hanging up. You see, he assumed the person on the line—who said his name was acclaimed music producer Quincy Jones—was a prankster. When he realized that it really was Jones, Van Halen listened carefully.
It turned out The Who's guitarist Pete Townshend had recommended Van Halen for a job. It wasn’t just any job: It was with the King of Pop.
34. He Changed A Lot
Michael Jackson had decided to add a rock song to his latest pop album, and he wanted a genuine hard rock guitar solo in the middle of the song. This was “Beat It” and Van Halen quickly got to work on providing a guitar solo. Before Van Halen knew what he was doing, he had made some very big changes to the original song which Jackson had written himself.
When Van Halen was ready to let Jackson hear it, he was terrified what the response would be.
35. He Got Nothing
Not only was Jackson thrilled with the changes Van Halen had made, he was genuinely touched that Van Halen would care enough to make those changes. Van Halen later said that working with Jackson was one of his fondest memories. Well, I hope Van Halen was happy with his fond memories, because he got nothing else from “Beat It”.
36. He Was Just Being Kind
Van Halen was so pleased with working with Michael Jackson that he refused to accept any payment for his work. While that is a hugely kind gesture, it was also a financially stupid one. “Beat It” reached the number one spot on the Billboard Hot 100 and stayed there for three weeks.
It sold over 11 million copies around the world and is one of the “best selling singles of all time”. Oh, and to add insult to injury, the album that contained “Beat It” would go on to bump Van Halen’s album from the number one spot down to number two. The upside to recording with Michael Jackson? More and more fame. The downside? What the fame made him do.
37. He Had An Unnatural Source
Being featured on a Michael Jackson song meant a whole new audience for Van Halen. His concerts were getting bigger and more outrageous. To his fans, Van Halen seemed to have boundless energy. Well, I wouldn’t say it was from a very natural source. If you looked in his on-stage amplifier cabinet, you’d see line after line of white powder just waiting for him.
Van Halen was getting more and more out of control and it was starting to affect his performance.
38. He Was A Marked Man
At one concert, Van Halen was about to go on stage when an aide noticed something strange about him. His face and chest were all marked up. The mess turned out to be from a sharpie pen. The aide quickly helped remove the pen marks and Van Halen went on to do his job.
They never found out if he’d done it himself or someone else had. Van Halen was clearly out of control—and so was his spending.
39. It Stank
Yes, Van Halen was one of the biggest bands in America, but somehow the members weren’t making much money. It turned out that the contract they got from Warner Brothers stank. Manager Noel Monk marched up to Warner Brothers and started a negotiation. Well, Monk knew what he was doing and suddenly Van Halen and the boys were rich.
Sadly, even with this increase in income, Van Halen struggled with finances. They were constantly trashing hotel rooms and in one case a limo. All this, and their constant substance use added up. They were somehow spending more than they were earning.
40. He’d Had Enough
As far as the fans were concerned, things were going great with Van Halen the band, but with the man, not so much. You see, he wasn’t getting along very well with lead singer David Lee Roth. In fact, during one argument, Van Halen threw something at Roth’s head: a glass bowl full of guacamole. Van Halen had had enough and he went looking for a solution.
41. He Wasn’t Wanted
Van Halen’s solution to his issues with Roth was to quit the band. His plan was to leave Van Halen and join another band: Kiss. Van Halen had stayed chummy with Gene Simmons, and he approached Simmons with the idea to join Kiss. As it turned out, Ace Frehley was about to quit Kiss, so they did need a new guitar player.
Even with this vacant spot, however, Simmons knew that Van Halen was a nightmare to work with. He told a disappointed Van Halen: no. Sadly, Van Halen had to return to the band he hated playing with.
42. It Had To End
Well, the huge personalities of Van Halen were finally taking a toll on the band. The egos of the band members were in daily competition and it didn’t help that they were still partying like they were teenagers. In 1985, the party however, came to an abrupt end. Van Halen was no more. Sadly, there was more bad news in store for Eddie Van Halen.
43. He Couldn’t Quit
Remember it was Van Halen’s father who had set Van Halen on a course for misadventure. This was when dad offered his young son a smoke and a bottle to help with his stage fright. Well, in 1986, Van Halen’s father passed, and his addiction to drink was certainly part of the reason.
A year or so later, Van Halen told Rolling Stone magazine that because of what had happened to his father, he was through with drinking forever. Sadly, his sobriety did not last.
44. They Called It Quits
Somehow through all the partying and drama, Van Halen had remained married to Bertinelli. By this time they even had a child together. The baby was a boy and they named him after Mozart: They called him Wolfgang. Having a child kept the Van Halen/Bertinelli marriage going for a whole deade.
The two separated in 2001, finally filing for divorce in 2005. Van Halen was a free man—free to behave in the most bizarre way possible.
45. He Lost His Mind
In addition to his addictions, Van Halen was also known for his flaring temper. When he did a jam session with Limp Bizkit’s Fred Durst, things went more than a little awry. For some reason Van Halen left his equipment at Durst's place. When Durst didn’t return the equipment el pronto, Van Halen lost his mind with anger.
What happened next is legendary.
46. It Was A Mission Possible
Van Halen suddenly decided it was time to get his music equipment from Durst’s place and he did in an extreme way. When Durst opened his door he saw a shirtless Van Halen, with his hair in a samurai bun, holding a pistol. Van Halen pointed the pistol at Durst’s head and demanded his equipment. Needless to say, Durst got it.
Van Halen put the equipment in his vehicle and drove away. Mission, as they say, accomplished. It was behavior like this that made Van Halen wonder: am I insane?
47. He Was Too Far Gone
Van Halen had finally realized his addiction to drink had gone too far. To remedy this, he checked himself into a rehab center. This was the same time that the Rock and Roll hall of Fame was honoring Van Halen the band. Sadly, he spent the ceremony locked away in rehab.
So far that year, Van Halen had finalized his divorce and entered rehab. What else could he do? How about proposing?
48. She Was A Threat
Throughout this tumultuous year, Van Halen had time to date. Janie Liszewski was a triple threat: She was a stuntwoman, an actress, and Van Halen’s publicist. I think it’s safe to say she knew all his secrets and so knew exactly what she was getting into.
The two walked down the aisle in 2009, and Bertinelli even attended with their son Wolfgang. It was one big happy dysfunctional family. However, down the road, they'd come together again—but this time, it would be for a tragic reason.
49. It Had Taken A Toll
There's one thing we can all agree on: Van Halen lived his life fully. He and his bandmates brought rock star antics to a whole new level. Of course, all that fun takes a toll on your body. Once in his 60s, Van Halen’s list of ailments included bone, hip, and colon problems and also three kinds of cancer: tongue, throat and lung.
In the end it was a stroke that did Van Halen in. This happened on October 6, 2020. Van Halen was 65 years old and surrounded by those who loved him.
50. He Has A Legacy
Back in 2017, Van Halen had done something to benefit the future of rock and roll: He’d donated 75 of his own guitars to students in low income areas of America. It’s nice to know they will still be creating music. And if you want to hear Van Halen just one more time, you can tune in to his son.
Wolfgang Van Halen has his own band, which he named in memory of his father’s first band. He called it Mammoth WVH.
51. They Couldn’t Find Them
The ceremony for the marriage of Van Halen and Bertinelli went off without a hitch. When it was time for the reception, however, no one could find the bride or groom. After an exhaustive search, band manager Noel Monk located the couple in a washroom. When they wouldn’t answer the door, Monk burst in. It was a sad sight.
Bertinelli in her beautiful white gown, holding Van Halen’s hair back as he vomited into the toilet. Bertinelli knew she had her hands full, and she knew there would be more trouble in store.