Today I have an article written by Grunge about the tragic details of Van Halen. It is almost incredible how much Van Halen has experienced, and it is fascinating reading. Big thanks to Grunge for this nice article.
In the late ’70s and ’80s, Van Halen ruled both arena rock and hard rock radio. The band’s elaborate, dazzling stage shows delighted and metaphorically melted the faces of its millions of fans who came to see them perform their huge hits. We’re talking about those heavy classics like “Runnin’ With the Devil,” “Dance the Night Away,” “Jump,” and “Panama.” Nobody ever sounded quite like Van Halen, because they had a unique formula that couldn’t be replicated: the otherworldly, light-speed guitar work of Eddie Van Halen, the propulsive drumming of his brother, Alex Van Halen, the crisp bass and backing vocals of Michael Anthony, and the party-time wailing of singer David Lee Roth, and after 1985, Sammy Hagar.
But it hasn’t been good times all the time for the rock band. The group has endured a lot of lineup changes, and they’ve dealt with the consequences of that rock ‘n’ roll lifestyle (not to mention the consequences of just being alive). So while Van Halen has brought a lot of joy to the world (and themselves), its members have had a rough go of it, and they’ve faced some pretty awful setbacks. From public squabbles to family misfortunes, here are some of the most tragic things that have ever happened to Van Halen.
While Van Halen was named after brothers Eddie Van Halen and Alex Van Halen, the breakout star was colorful singer David Lee Roth. He was always good for a quippy quote, bounced around on stage, and mugged for the cameras. And in 1985, he started a solo career, embracing the old-time showman inside with a medley of “Just a Gigolo” and “I Ain’t’ Got Nobody.” With his eventual departure a foregone conclusion, Roth left Van Halen in 1985, a year after the release of its most successful album, 1984.
That left the rest of Van Halen, still a very hot act, scrambling to find a new lead singer to keep the gravy train rolling. Amazingly and surprisingly, several of the band’s initial choices turned down the gig that eventually went to hard rock solo artist Sammy Hagar. “Eddie asked me to join Van Halen,” singer Patty Smyth of the band Scandal (responsible for the big ’80s hit “The Warrior”) told Delaware’s News Journal. “They had asked me not to talk about in interviews at the time, because they didn’t want Sammy Hagar to feel like he was the second choice.”
Another interesting pick that could’ve been was the honey-voiced Daryl Hall of Hall and Oates. When Hagar was a guest on Hall’s show Live at Daryl’s House, he asked Hall about the rumor that he’d been asked to join his old band. “Did Eddie really ask you to join Van Halen?” Hagar implored, and Hall confirmed it.
Van Halen is a band that can be a nightmare when on tour, and as a result, “no brown M&M’s” is probably the most famous bit of Van Halen lore … and it’s true. The band’s 1982 rider — a list of technical and dressing room requirements — included a stipulation that their backstage bowl of M&M’s be free of brown ones. This wasn’t Van Halen acting like a bunch of divas, however. In a 2012 video, David Lee Roth explained that the band’s touring show was “the biggest production ever” and difficult to set up in a timely manner because the crews in each town were inexperienced with the ways of a massive rock ‘n’ roll setup. So Roth asked his managers to place a clause in the rider banning brown M&Ms. If Roth spotted the candies in the bowl, it “guaranteed the promoter had not read the contract rider, and [the band] had to do a serious line check” to make sure all of the stage equipment had been installed safely and correctly.
And seriously, if people didn’t pay attention to the contract, there were pretty bad consequences. For example, take the 1980 show in Pueblo, Colorado. According to Snopes, when Roth went backstage and found brown M&Ms, he absolutely destroyed the dressing room. And as it turns out, he had every right to be mad that the promoters hadn’t carefully read the contract. In addition to the M&Ms, the Colorado arena’s shock-absorbent floor couldn’t handle the weight of Van Halen’s gear. Even though the floor requirements were laid out in the rider, organizers ignored that section, too. And as Roth explained, “the staging sank through their floor,” causing around $80,000 to the arena.
According to The Pulse of Radio (via Blabbermouth), Michael Anthony’s relationship with Eddie Van Halen started to suffer in the late ’90s, when the band parted with Sammy Hagar and briefly reunited with David Lee Roth. Hagar had started a new band called Planet Us and had asked Anthony if he’d like to join. Van Halen took that to mean that the bassist had quit. “Eddie felt that I was a traitor,” Anthony said. Flash forward to 2004 when Van Halen wanted to tour with Hagar, and they asked Anthony to get the jilted singer to sign on. However, if Anthony wanted to be a part of it, he’d have to sign away his legal rights to the Van Halen band name and take a pay cut.
In its ’70s and ’80s heyday, the members of Van Halen would play a concert in the evening, and then they’d go out and party afterward. Well, everyone except Eddie Van Halen, who’d elect to stay back in his hotel room to write songs, work on guitar riffs, and ingest copious amounts of vodka and cocaine. “I would use them for work. The blow keeps you awake, and the alcohol lowers your inhibitions,” Van Halen told Billboard, later adding, “I was an alcoholic, and I needed alcohol to function.” Of course, sometimes this backfired, as once he got so wasted that he couldn’t even play.
Van Halen’s descent into addiction began young — very young. “I started drinking and smoking when I was 12. I got drunk before I’d show up to high school.” In 1988, he told Rolling Stone about how the alcohol-related death of his father led to him kicking booze, but the sobriety didn’t last. By 2004, he’d turned into, as he told Billboard, “an angry drunk.” Three years later, he checked himself into a rehabilitation center, which precluded him from attending Van Halen’s induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. He’s reportedly stayed off of substances since 2008.
Rock stars get together with actresses (and models) — that’s just the natural order of things. And in 1980, 20-year-old Valerie Bertinelli — at the time the star of the popular sitcom One Day at a Time — met guitar master Eddie Van Halen backstage at one of his shows. It must’ve been close to love at first sight because the pair married in April 1981, just eight months after they became a couple, according to NBC’s Today.
However, drugs go hand in hand with rock ‘n’ roll, and they were also a part of this rock ‘n’ roll marriage from even before it started. Bertinelli wrote in her memoir, Losing It and Gaining My Life Back, that as she and Van Halen filled out a pre-marriage questionnaire sent by their wedding officiant, they “each held a little vial of coke.” Not too long into the marriage, both parties started to stray. “Yes, I did, four years into our marriage, cheat,” Bertinelli told Today. She told The Oprah Winfrey Show that she also discovered evidence of Van Halen’s infidelity. “I heard him on the phone,” she said, “and he was talking about how he just wanted out of the marriage.” According to People, Bertinelli filed for divorce in 2005, four years after she and Van Halen separated.
In March 1995, Van Halen hit the road for a long stretch of concerts in support of its album Balance. Eddie Van Halen reportedly and cleverly nicknamed it the “Ambulance Tour” because both he and his brother were playing through the pain. While drummer Alex Van Halen ruptured three vertebrae in his neck and had to wear a not-very-rock-‘n’-roll neck brace for the duration of many shows, Eddie Van Halen was dealing with tremendous pain in his hip.
The guitarist discussed his persistent pain with reporters at the 1996 MTV Video Music Awards (where the band reunited with David Lee Roth Roth, a peace that faltered when Roth got angry that Van Halen had discussed his health problems during such a momentous occasion, according to MTV). While Van Halen delayed hip replacement surgery for years, he finally went under the knife in November 1999. According to USA Today, Van Halen got his brand new bionic from Dr. John R. Moreland, orthopedic surgeon to the stars, who performed similar operations for Liza Minnelli and Elizabeth Taylor. The reason why Van Halen, just 44 at the time of surgery, needed a new bone was because of a condition called “avascular necrosis,” in which the femoral ball part of the hip gets cut off from blood supply, leading to bone death. So yeah, that sounds pretty awful.
Eddie Van Halen was once a habitual chain smoker. In fact, he went through so many cigarettes during recording sessions that it annoyed Sammy Hagar. As the singer told Ultimate Classic Rock Nights, after hanging out with the guitarist, “I would stink so bad with all my long hair — hair just absorbs cigarettes — and my clothes.”
As of 2015, Van Halen gave up smoking in favor of vaping, a necessary concession considering that a third of his tongue was surgically removed in 2000, according to TMZ. The cancer also spread to his throat, and while he was declared healthy in 2002, he’s been commuting between his home in the U.S. and Germany for years to receive special treatments, per TMZ. In November 2019, Van Halen was briefly hospitalized for a health issue relating to the big C, as he was suffering from abdominal pain, an adverse reaction to some of his cancer drugs.
Van Halen has an interesting theory as to the cause of this ongoing health crisis. Years of smoking isn’t to blame. Instead, it’s work-related. “I used metal picks — they’re brass and copper — which I always held in my mouth, in the exact place where I got the tongue cancer,” Van Halen told Billboard. “Plus, I basically live in a recording studio that’s filled with electromagnetic energy.”
Eddie Van Halen has survived cancer, bone necrosis, and decades of heavy drinking. After slaying those potentially devastating and deadly demons, he faced another major health scare in 2012. On August 29 of that year, a message posted to the Van Halen Facebook page read, “Eddie Van Halen underwent an emergency surgery for a severe bout of diverticulitis. No further surgeries are needed, and a full recovery is expected within 4-6 months.”
Characterized by such unpleasant symptoms as constant abdominal pain, nausea, vomiting, fever, and constipation, diverticulitis results when pouches in the large intestine become inflamed and or infected. Only severe cases require corrective surgery, and that’s what happened to Van Halen. Sadly, the eruption got worse for the “Eruption” shredder. According to CNN (via the Van Halen News Desk), the guitarist spent an extra three weeks in the hospital after his surgery because he blew a few stitches, leading to an infection in the intestine, a portion of which had to be removed by doctors. From that point, Van Halen spent months recovering at home, forcing the cancellation of the rest of his band’s 2012 tour dates.
In the early 1980s, Alex Van Halen was briefly married to a woman named Valeri Kendall. Eventually, the two broke up, but that was far from being his most complicated divorce.
In 1984, Alex Van Halen married the former Kelly Carter. It ended in divorce in 1996, but that wasn’t the end of the legal headaches. In 2013, per The Hollywood Reporter, ELVH Inc. (Van Halen’s intellectual property company and corporate umbrella) sued Kelly Carter, or rather Kelly Van Halen. Why? Because over a decade after her divorce, she was still using Van Halen as her professional last name. She started a construction, fashion, and interior design company named Kelly Van Halen, which ELVH (representing the interests of Alex Van Halen and his bandmates) alleged constituted trademark infringement. The Van Halen company also complained that slapping the name “Kelly Van Halen” on a line of blankets, bathing suits, and armoires was “confusingly similar to” the “sound, appearance, and commercial impression” of Van Halen the rock band. After years of legal battles, the company co-controlled by Alex Van Halen and the former wife of Alex Van Halen settled the matter out of court.
Not long after the stressful departure of David Lee Roth in 1985 and the addition of Sammy Hagar to the band, Eddie Van Halen and brother Alex Van Halen endured a far more taxing ordeal. Their father, Jan Van Halen, suffered a heart attack in May 1986 and then died in December of that year. In a 1988 profile in Rolling Stone, Eddie Van Halen indicated that a problem with alcohol contributed to his father’s death at age 66. That — combined with the time when Eddie was forced to stay in the hospital for a tropical fever — made him take a long, hard look at himself. As he put it, “That kinda made me look at things a little different, imagining being in there for an OD or alcohol, like my dad died from. It kinda wised me up.”
Their father’s death shook Alex Van Halen, too, who enjoyed a reputation as the hardest partier of anyone in the band (which is saying something). And so, he also quit drinking around 1986. “I didn’t want to end up like Keith Moon or John Bonham,” Van Halen said, referring to two other excellent rock drummers who died from complications of excessive alcohol consumption.
While Michael Anthony and Eddie Van Halen spar every now and then in the pages of music magazines, and while consummate entertainer David Lee Roth continues to act like David Lee Roth, Alex Van Halen has historically been the most private and attention-averse of anyone in Van Halen. On stage even, he’s obscured by a massive drum kit, but offstage, he rarely posts to his social media accounts. In fact, his Twitter account only has two tweets in 11 years. He doesn’t appear to have a public Instagram account, but brother Eddie Van Halen does, and the last picture of Alex on that feed dates back to July 2017. Nephew and bandmate Wolfgang Van Halen also has an Instagram presence, and in January 2020, he posted a video of himself playing drums. Now, that’s his uncle’s instrument, prompting the question, is Alex Van Halen … okay?
Also leading to that sentiment are some photos of the drummer published by Alternative Nation in January 2020 in which he looks extremely thin, if not alarmingly gaunt. There’s no word from the Van Halen camp yet, so hopefully everything is all right for the legendary musician.