Sammy Hagar on Eddie Van Halen's Shocking Spiral

Tongue cancer, cheap wine and pulling out teeth with pliers

By Greg Wilson
|  Tuesday, Mar 8, 2011  |  Updated 12:45 PM CDT
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Eddie Van Halen spent a lot of years runnin' with the devil, and they took their toll, according to former bandmate Sammy Hagar.

Hagar, who took over lead vocals for Van Halen after David Lee Roth left the mega-selling 1980s band, says in an upcoming book that the guitar virtuoso and his brother, drummer Alex Van Halen, drank from the time the woke up to the time they went to bed, hated all other bands and were so close that they constantly shared cigarettes.

Hagar said he finally quit the band after a decade when Eddie Van Halen's dictatorial ways got out of hand and his once-great guitar playing became sloppy and unpredictable. Van Halen swigged cheap wine straight out of the bottle, pulled out his own teeth with pliers and chainsmoked even after having part of his tongue removed due to cancer.

"This was Eddie Van Halen, one of the sweetest guys I ever met," Hagar writes in "RED: My Uncensored Life in Rock," due out on March 15. "He had turned into the weirdest f--- I'd ever seen, crude, rude and unkempt."

An intervention failed when Van Halen waved a bottle of wine at his band and management and told them, "I left my family for this s--t. You think I'm going to f---ing do this for you guys?"

In 2004, Hagar got a call about reuniting and went to the band's old studio to meet Van Halen.

"I'd never seen him so skinny in my life," Hagar recalls. "He was missing a number of teeth and the ones he had left were black. His boots were so worn out he had gaffer's tape wrapped around them, and his big toe stuck out. He walked up to me, hunched over like a little old man, a cigarette in his mouth. He had a third of his tongue removed because of cancer and he spoke with a slight lisp."

A final tour ended in disaster, according to Hagar, with an increasingly erratic Van Halen playing badly and treating Hagar worse.

After the final show, "I went straight to my plane after the show and home to San Francisco," Hagar writes. "I never spoke to him again."

But Hagar believes he'll be back on stage with Van Halen one day. The band is working on an album with Roth on vocals, but Hagar can see himself fronting the group gain.

"I'd say it's up there around 90 percent," Hagar said. "I would love to make another record with Van Halen. If Eddie was totally cool and was back to the guy I used to know, or a new guy, not the guy I knew the last time... I wouldn't do it if he was like that. It's below zero, minus zero. But if Eddie really got his life together, which it seems he has judging by the pictures I've seen, then definitely."

Just not soon. "Right now (there's) zero chance. When my book comes out, zero for a while. But someday, before we all die, f--- yeah."

Selected Reading: Rolling Stone, Van Halen.com, Toronto Sun.

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