David Lee Roth has stoked conjecture about possible health issues for Eddie Van Halen, linking hints of a cancer relapse to the singer’s newly confirmed solo shows.
“I’m the face of Van Halen from this point on, most likely,” Roth told Phoenix’s KSLX. “I’m not sure what’s happening with Ed, but [he’s] probably not gonna answer the bell this time. I hear all the same rumors that you do. It’s not my place to guess.”
Talk earlier this summer centered on a Van Halen tour that would have reportedly included the return of Michael Anthony. At one point, the former bassist confirmed he had been contacted. When nothing came of that, however, many wondered if Eddie Van Halen’s health had become an issue again. A widely circulated, apparently new image of Van Halen sparked more concern, since he appeared to have shorn hair.
The guitarist was originally treated for tongue cancer in 2000, but even then the exact nature of Van Halen’s illness was unclear.
An official statement from the M.D. Anderson Cancer in Houston initially reported that Van Halen “does not have cancer. After visiting with M.D. Anderson doctors, he is planning to begin an outpatient clinical trial to prevent cancer. … He did not have an operation at M.D. Anderson.” The band’s official website only confirmed that Van Halen had visited M.D. Anderson on May 25 as an outpatient.
Van Halen eventually confirmed his diagnosis, revealing that he’d undergone surgery in which a third of his tongue was removed. He was initially declared cancer free two years later, then reunited with Roth in 2007.
Once a heavy smoker, Van Halen blamed another habit for his diagnosis: “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,” he told Billboard in 2015. “Plus, I basically live in a recording studio that’s filled with electromagnetic energy. So, that’s one theory. I mean, I was smoking and doing a lot of drugs and a lot of everything. But at the same time, my lungs are totally clear. This is just my own theory, but the doctors say it’s possible.”
Sammy Hagar, who succeeded Roth as Van Halen’s singer from 1985–96, doesn’t ascribe to that theory. “There’s cigarettes,” Hagar fired back earlier this year. “What about those cigarettes?”
Van Halen’s health scares weren’t over. He later disclosed that his cancer returned — including twice in 2011. This time, the disease had crept into his esophagus. “I haven’t talked about this, because I don’t talk about this,” the guitarist told Esquire. He also endured such a severe case of the digestive disorder diverticulitis that emergency surgery was required.
Each of these revelations was typically a long time coming. Van Halen said that doctors had also tried an experimental radioactive rinse, but that was years later. Along the way, he apparently continued to try other nontraditional procedures.
“Cancer is like a cockroach,” Van Halen would lament in a talk with Howard Stern. “It just comes back stronger.” That’s what has so many followers of Van Halen worried.
KSLX joined the speculation, following their new talk with Roth: “I believe we may have inadvertently uncovered confirmation of a rumor that had been bubbling for a while now: Edward Van Halen is very sick. Dave was fairly coy overall, but he’s not stupid. In his own way, I think he’s preparing us.”
Roth will take part a nine-date solo residency in January and March at Las Vegas’ Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino House of Blues. This is actually his second Vegas residency, following a run nearly 25 years agowith a 14-piece group called the Blues-Bustin’ Mambo Slammers. He hasn’t performed a solo show since November 2006.
Van Halen – which features Roth, Eddie, Alex Van Halen and Eddie’s son Wolfgang Van Halen – last took the stage together in October 2015. Their most recent new music dates back to 2012’s A Different Kind of Truth.