Thirty years ago, the hard rock powerhouse known as Van Halen was just coming into its own, and by April of 1981, the original group was already in deep trouble. At the end of the month, Van Halen would release its fourth album, ‘Fair Warning’ and the last track, sung by frontman David Lee Roth, was called ‘One Foot Out the Door.’
The timing of the band’s self-titled debut, which came out in 1978, gave Van Halen an odd, tenuous connection to punk rock (“Homegrown Punk,” read the headline of an L.A. Times feature). In truth, the band had been together since 1972, when young brothers Alex and Eddie Van Halen, born in the Netherlands, started an L.A. rock group with Roth, the guy who rented them their sound system. After toying with several names (Mammoth, Rat Salade, the already-taken Genesis) and the backing of Kiss’ Gene Simmons, the band settled on naming itself after the brothers.
Following the monster success of the band’s first two albums, Roth would stick around until 1985, when the band replaced him with ex-Montrose belter Sammy Hagar. But Roth and Eddie Van Halen were already at odds by the time of ‘Fair Warning.’
A few weeks before the album’s release, on April 11, 1981, the prodigious guitarist got married to Valerie Bertinelli. Given his bride’s line of work — she was a young actress famous for her long-running role as sensible Barbara Cooper on the Norman Lear sitcom ‘One Day at a Time’ — it might have been easy to assume that Eddie’s newfound domesticity was causing the rift in the legendarily hard-rocking band.
Instead, the unlikely couple lapsed into a reckless rock ‘n’ roll lifestyle together. In a TV interview not long after their wedding, Bertinelli said she and her husband had taken a little of “each other’s personality.” He’d calmed down a little, she claimed, while she was getting a little wilder. To change her image, she was taking more “adult” roles, starting with the lead in the made-for-TV movie ‘I Was a Mail Order Bride.’
By the time Hagar joined the group, as he recounts in ‘Red,’ his best-selling new memoir, the Van Halens were living in squalor in a modest two-bedroom house with a filthy recording studio in the garage. They had to blow ashes off the mixing board just to plug in. They called the studio 5150 (also the name of their first album with Hagar) — police code for dealing with a crazy person.
On her TV show, Bertinelli acted opposite Mackenzie Phillips, the notoriously troubled daughter of Mamas and the Papas founder John Phillips, who played the rebellious Cooper sister, Julie. In reality, Bertinelli’s struggles with drugs and alcohol kept pace with those of her former acting partner.
Eddie Van Halen’s well-documented appetite for self-destruction is one big reason ‘Red’ is selling so well. As it turns out, Bertinelli matched him blow for blow. Cocaine abuse made her dread mornings. “It took me years after stopping the cocaine before I was able to enjoy a sunrise and enjoy the sound of birds,” she told Oprah Winfrey a few years ago.
By then, she and her beloved Edward were divorced, their marriage a casualty of mutual indulgence. They have since both remarried, with each attending the other’s second wedding. Meanwhile, their son, Wolfgang, who turned 20 in March, has been Van Halen’s bassist since 2006. He’s the pride and joy of the twosome CNN once called “the ultimate good girl-bad boy coupling.”