Wolfgang Van Halen on Why It's 'Impossible' to Replace Late Dad Eddie in Van Halen (Exclusive)
By Leena Tailor
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Six weeks after the death of his music icon father, Eddie Van Halen, Wolfgang Van Halen is opening up about the rocker’s final days, the best piece of musical advice he gave him and why he can never replace his dad in Van Halen. Eddie died on Oct. 6, following a lengthy battle with cancer. He was 65.
Since his death, fans have speculated that Wolfgang, 29, may step into Eddie’s shoes in Van Halen, but Wolfgang calls the idea “impossible.”
“No way. That’ll never happen,” Wolfgang said, talking to ET’s Kevin Frazier during what he describes as “the worst month of my life.” “I think a message to the Van Halen fans [would be that] some things just really suck. I don't have a dad anymore and I have to figure out how to process that and deal with it. And, that's the process that Van Halen fans need to go through and realize that you can't have the band anymore without Eddie Van Halen. The music will live on forever, but you can't have [the band] without him. Impossible.”
“My dad would probably be really pissed off at me if I [took his place,]” Wolfgang added. “He'd probably be like, ‘What are you doing playing my stuff? Go do your stuff.’ He would've been really upset, like, ‘You have all this music you're sitting on. Why wouldn't you go forward with that?’”
Moving forward with his own music is exactly what Wolfgang is now doing. He has just released the song “Distance,” through his solo band, Mammoth WVH. The single’s dedicated to Eddie and the video features touching home movies.
Wolfgang admits he cried every time he watched the video, which ends with Eddie leaving him a sweet voicemail saying how proud he is of him.
“He used to leave me messages like that all the time,” Wolfgang says. “There wasn't a specific occasion that warranted that voicemail -- that's just how loving and amazing he was. He said stuff like that all the time and luckily, going through my phone, I found a couple of voicemails that were wonderful.”
“I thought that one was a really great way to cap the video off, to really show people how loving of a father he was,” he added.
Watching the video has also been an emotional journey for Eddie’s wife and Wolfgang’s mother, Valerie Bertinelli.
“All I had to do was walk into her house and say, ‘Hey, I have the video,’ and she started crying before she even watched it,” Wolfgang says. “She's watched it countless times. She's probably downstairs on the couch right now watching it. She has been my biggest supporter through all of this.”
Wolfgang feels blessed that Eddie was able to listen to all of his music before his death. He frequently declared Wolfgang’s music “best album of all time.” “I don't know what I would do if I was never able to hear him react to my music,” Wolfgang notes. “I'm really blessed that I was able to experience that.”
Wolfgang has further musical releases on the way in 2021 and says he keeps one key piece of advice from his father close to him. “One of my favorite things he ever told me was what his father told him -- when you're playing music, if you ever make a mistake, do it twice so people think you did it on purpose!” he says.
Since Eddie’s death, Wolfgang has been overwhelmed by the “monumental” amount of support from fans of his father, who was diagnosed with stage four lung cancer in 2017 and told he had six weeks to live. Treatment in Germany helped him live longer. Wolfgang says spending time with his dad during his final days was a blessing, but “really rough.”
“It just seems like he never got a break,” he explains. “Things just kept piling on and piling on. The second he would get a wind, it was one step forward, two steps back. But for the worst situation and experience of my life, it couldn’t have gone smoother. I was very happy I was able to spend every second with him that I could.”
He added that the family may eventually organize a tribute show in honor of Eddie, with proceeds going toward his favorite charity, Mr. Holland's Opus, which helps underprivileged students access musical instruments. Proceeds from “Distance” are also benefiting Mr. Holland's Opus.
Reflecting on his father’s incredible career, Wolfgang believes his legacy will be as “the Mozart of our generation.”
“I think the way we look back at people like Mozart and Beethoven -- you put that amount of time ahead of us and I think people will still be looking back at him,” he says. “[The way he played] was amazing. It rubbed off on me because that's all I wanted to do. That's all I'm going to do -- play music.”