Gene Simmons Remembers 'Beautiful Soul' Eddie Van Halen (Exclusive)
Gene Simmons is remembering his friend and fellow rock legend, Eddie Van Halen.
ET spoke with the KISS singer on Tuesday just hours after news broke that Van Halen died at the age of 65 following a long battle with cancer. Simmons shared how he felt when he heard the tragic news, and opened up about why Van Halen’s death impacted so many people around the world.
“Every once in a while you meet a real human being that touches your heart, above and beyond the talent. Today was heartbreaking, not just for myself, but for the millions and millions of fans Van Halen has had over the years,” Simmons, 71, told ET’s Kevin Frazier. “And for so many guitar players that Eddie influenced. Eddie Van Halen was a beautiful, pure soul. My hand to God, I am here to tell you I never heard Eddie Van Halen ever say anything bad about anybody, not even other bands. Eddie Van Halen was a better man than I could ever hope to be.”
“I will tell you, the god’s honest truth, when I heard shockingly that Eddie had passed away, the first image that came to me was Eddie smiling… that big ear-to-ear smile,” he continued. “I am checking [social] media and the photo that keeps coming up is Eddie happy, smiling and enjoying life. The tragedy of this whole thing is not that he has died so badly, but so young. And only the good die young.”
Throughout the interview, Simmons recalled some of his favorite moments with Van Halen over the years, including the first time he ever heard the iconic rock musician play guitar. He says it was sometime around the year 1977, before the Van Halen rock band (also made up of vocalist David Lee Roth, bassist Michael Anthony, and Van Halen’s brother, drummer Alex Van Halen) blew up.
“I saw them as a new band that I had never heard of. I was invited to go see them at The Starwood,” Simmons remembered, referencing the now-closed music venue in Los Angeles. “I was there to see another band and I was upstairs in the ‘Oh, you are so special’ area. People were coming over for autographs and then I heard this astonishing sound. A guitar that sounded like three or four guitar players all playing at the same time, melodic and in harmony, too.”
“I went to the front and I saw this guy tapping away on the guitar, which I had never seen before,” he added. “And of course the lead singer is defying gravity, flying in the air, and Alex on drums and Michael on bass. But this one guitar was making all these sounds and I never heard anything like that.”
While Simmons did produce a Van Halen demo tape shortly after hearing them play that night, he told ET he does not take credit for “discovering” the band, as some fans and music outlets claim.
“I’ve gotten that thrown at myself and sometimes I even say it, you know, ‘I discovered Van Halen.’ I discovered nothing,” Simmons said. “I didn’t discover Superman; he was always there. I was just honored and lucky enough to be there, to witness the greatness before it exploded on the world.”
“Nobody has been like them since, to this day,” he added. “When I was a kid and I heard Jimi Hendrix for the first time, I went, ‘OK, Earth has changed.’ Not since Jimi Hendrix has anybody had that effect. Eddie is certainly on that caliber, maybe even more.”
Another quality that Simmons found admirable about Van Halen was his ability to remain humble even after becoming a massive rock star. Simmons told ET that even after the band produced some of their most famous hits, like “Jump,” “Panama” and “Runnin’ With the Devil,” Van Halen seemed “unaffected” by it all and couldn’t care less “about the fame.”
“I have to say, it is humbling for a guy that is full of himself, like me,” Simmons joked. “A lot of us walk around with silly hair and shades and all this kind of stuff for an affectation and Eddie was always just kind of Eddie. He was not trying to impress anybody. He could outplay anybody and never had the air of, ‘OK, watch out, here I come.’ None of that stuff.”
“He could teach all of us a lesson,” he added. “In just how to relax, and be a human being first, above and beyond what you do.”
Later in the interview, when continuing to talk about his favorite memories with Van Halen, Simmons remembered an impactful moment when he once had to talk his friend out of leaving his own band.
“KISS was in the studio and Van Halen had already become a very big band. Eddie was unhappy within the band [at the time], every band goes through that,” Simmons recalled. “Eddie called and said that he wanted to come down, to tell me that he wasn’t happy with some members of the band and he wanted to join KISS.”
“I said, ‘No, you’re not going to do that. Let’s go have lunch and we’re going to talk about this thing,'” Simmons continued. “He was so unhappy with the personalities within the band. One person in particular, Eddie just couldn’t take it anymore. I said, ‘You can’t leave the band, it’s called Van Halen. You’re the main songwriter of the band and it’s your band.’ Anyways, he stuck it out.”
Simmons shared that before Van Halen left that day, he sat the rest of the guys from KISS down (Paul Stanley, Ace Frehley and Peter Criss) to play something “new” for them.
“We’re going, ‘That’s cool. What is that, a synthesizer?'” Simmons said. “He goes, ‘Yeah, it’s called ‘Jump.'”
“We’re like, ‘Oh, that’s cool, great. Hey, when are you going to add the lead guitar and the guitars? And he said, ‘No, that’s it,'” Simmons added of the song that would eventually become the band’s most successful single to date. “I got to tell you, he knew it. The rest of us were just in the peanut gallery, waiting, ‘Hey, where’s the same old stuff?'”
Simmons continued on, telling ET that “Eddie was and continues to be a visionary,” with a legacy that will live on.
“Today I’ve talked a lot about Eddie and I found myself talking in the present tense. Not like he’s gone,” he said. “My heart goes out to his family and friends, and of course his millions of fans.”
“I would urge everyone out there who knows the Gen Z kids, the millennials. Grab them by the ear and pull them over to something called the record player,” he added. “And let them hear Van Halen.”
For more on Van Halen’s legendary rock career, tune into Entertainment Tonight on Wednesday.
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