Eddie Van Halen talks at length about his battles with cancer, cigarettes and alcohol, and his ultimate redemption, in a new interview with Esquire magazine.
Singer David Lee Roth has been handling all the press for Van Halen since the group released its new album, “A Different Kind Of Truth,” earlier this year, so the Esquire session is a rare one for Eddie these days.
The interview covers a lot of territory, much of it discussed over the years, but there are some new insights into the guitar legend’s life and, especially, his health in recent times.
When Eddie hooked up with then-girlfriend and now wife Janie Liszewski in 2006, he was at a point where he wanted to stop drinking…again. He had done a bunch of rehabs in the past, a month here, a month there. But this time he went to stop drinking once and for all. The doctors put him on a drug called Klonopin. Then while onstage, he took a nosedive and had to go to rehab to get off the Klonopin, and they put him on antidepressants.
Ed’s system was in such shock that he became catatonic for about a year and spent most of 2008 watching television. “Fucked me up, you know?,” says Eddie. “All I wanted to do was stop drinking. But instead I literally could not communicate. Yeah, I was gone. I don’t know what dimension I went to, but I was not here.” The doctors didn’t know if he was going to come out of it normal. Janie’s freaking out, had to get him off the pills, and it took a while. “It was such a long process to come out of this,” explains the guitarist. “Just to be able to communicate, to talk, was a feat in itself. You know when you see homeless people and they’re literally not here, you know? I laid on the couch for a year. Just watching Law & Order. I was always in the studio making music, and now, nothing.”
And his brother, Alex, was by his side, he’s there checking on his little brother with love and support, making sure he doesn’t just walk off. “The doctors helped me out with this amino-acid treatment stuff, or whatever it was,” explains Eddie. “And slowly I came out of it, and the first thing I remember, really, was picking up a guitar, and my whole hand was locked into a fist. And I thought, “Okay, I guess I won’t be playing anymore.”
In 2009, Van Halen had surgery to repair his hand issues after specialists in Dousseldorf, Germany, who initially began treating the guitarist for arthritis, discovered a bone spur, twisted tendon and a cyst in the joint of his left thumb.
Eddie’s history with cancer dates back to 2000, when he felt a callus on his tongue. The doctors had him drink an experimental radioactive rinse, then they cut out a piece of his tongue shaped like the end of his pick. And he was cancer-free until last year, when he got hit twice. “I haven’t talked about this, because I don’t talk about this,” he says. Last spring, doctors found cancer cells in his throat and took a scalpel to them. Last fall, the cancer came back and they took another chunk of his tongue. Every few months, he opens his mouth and doctors poke at him.
Eddie’s ultimate redemption came through his new life with Janie, but also by inviting his son, Wolfgang, to join his band.
When Van Halen reunited with Roth in 2007 for a North American tour, Wolfgang was on bass. He was sixteen and getting a ton of flack from fans for replacing Michael Anthony. “I mean, what a crazy situation to put a sixteen-year-old through — talk about hit the ground running,” says Eddie. But without Wolfgang, the 2007 reunion wouldn't have happened. The new album and 2012 tour wouldn't have happened.
“You know obviously, I can't think of anyone more blessed than me,” Eddie says. “For one, you know all the bullshit I've been through in my life. To have a brother that I've been playing with since day one, and now my son. I don't think anyone else in music can actually say that. I don't know anyone who has a son and brother that they play together. That brings me to hey mom, dad, why don't you have another kid? No! [Laughs.] I could use a good accountant, tour manager, you know, whatever —“
There’s LOTS more of the Eddie interview – check it out at Esquire here.
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