The late legendary rocker Eddie Van Halen had strong ties to Michigan until his untimely death.
First, his first wife, TV star Valerie Bertinelli, grew up in Clarkston. Van Halen’s former brother-in-law David Bertinelli has lived in Charlevoix for years. Just last fall, Van Halen donated one of his autographed guitars to Bertinelli’s son’s school fundraiser in Charlevoix.
Thus October 6 – the day of Van Halen’s death – is imprinted in the soul of David Bertinelli. When he talks about it, all he can say is, “I was glad I sat down. It was afternoon. I’ll never forget it.”
Van Halen was 65 when he died of cancer. David Bertinelli had remained close to Van Halen for decades and knew his former brother-in-law was ill, but he did not expect death.
A vintage photo taken by Eddie Van Halen’s brother-in-law in 1986. The band had just returned from tour and many of their suitcases were stacked in the arcade next to 5150 studios. Ed agreed to pose for a couple of shots there and this is one of a series from that afternoon. (Photo: David Bertinelli)
“He made me fall. He hit me so hard,” said Bertinelli. “And he was very down to earth. I didn’t consider him a rock star brother-in-law. He was part of our family. Even after he and Val got divorced – they went through some ups and downs – but they always stayed close and grew a wonderful son “.
Van Halen’s band of the same name had a number of hits from the late 1970s through to the 1990s such as “Running with the Devil”, “Panama”, “Unchained” and the only number 1 single in the States United of the band, “Jump”.
Bertinelli, who manages parks and trails for Charlevoix County, is a leisure photographer. She took hundreds of photos of her sister Valerie and her first husband, Van Halen, along with the band, on tour in the 1980s and 1990s. David had hoped to publish a photo book with Van Halen contributing memories to each image.
Bertinelli shared his memories and some of those photos with the Free Press.
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Raised in Michigan
The Bertinelli family refused to discuss the arrangements for the funeral for Van Halen because they want to keep it private.
David, 59, and his siblings, Patrick, 56, Drew, 65, and Valerie, 60, were all born in Delaware. Their father, Andy, worked at a GM factory there. They had another brother, Mark, who died when he was 17 months old after accidentally drinking poison on a family friend’s farm, Valerie told People magazine in May.
David Bertinelli, 59, lives in Charlevoix and manages parks and trails. She spent years traveling with her ex-brother-in-law Eddie Van Halen and has many fond memories and has never seen photos of their time together. (Photo: David Bertinelli)
Due to Andy’s work with GM, the family has moved across the country. They landed in Michigan in 1968, when Andy was transferred to Pontiac’s GM plant. The Bertinellis settled on Walters Lake in Independence Township along Clarkston Road. They lived near Pine Knob, now called DTE Energy Music Theater.
Former neighbor Joe Fabrizio, 75, remembers the family well. They became close friends, with Valerie often babysitting her children.
“One summer day, Valerie somehow caught a Canadian goose with her bare hands and we still have a picture of her holding the frightened goose under our porch while my astonished children watched in amazement,” said Fabrizio .
Dad’s “square” friend
It would not be the first time that the Bertinellis will amaze Fabrizio. Neighbors kept in touch after Andy was moved to Van Nuys, California in 1971. In fact, Andy’s wife, Nancy Bertinelli, painted as a hobby and sent her Santa Barbara Mission painting to the Fabrizio family. of art that Fabrizio hopes to give to David.
Years after moving to California, Andy returned to Michigan and made an unexpected visit to Fabrizio’s backyard. With him was his young son-in-law, dressed in striped, tight trousers, Fabrizio said.
“We were having a family picnic and he introduced us to Eddie Van Halen, who was among the performances at Pine Knob,” said Fabrizio. “Eddie didn’t know anyone other than his father-in-law and he must have felt a little uncomfortable. Eddie was very kind, a gentleman.”
Fabrizio said his Italian family enjoyed playing at parties. But Van Halen had to get to his show and didn’t stay long, he said.
“Otherwise, with Andy’s help we would have persuaded him to play a song or two with us,” said Fabrizio. “Funny thing, even though my then teen kids loved him, I wasn’t very familiar with who Van Halen was at the time and when I introduced him to the kids they shrugged it off without realizing it was really him. he was just another old, square dad friend. “
Nice, good music
When the Bertinelli family landed in California, Valerie went from being a babysitter to a TV star. In December 1975 the television comedy “One day at a time” aired. Valerie, then 15, played Barbara Cooper. The show, produced by Norman Lear, was a success, ending production in 1984.
Fabrizio is amazed at how Valerie was the child next door one minute and then “here she is on TV” the next. Most recently, she hosted “Valerie’s Home Cooking” on Food Network.
GM moved Andy from California to Shreveport, Louisiana in 1978, but David Bertinelli remained in California. She lived with her sister while she was finishing her senior year at Hollywood High School.
She liked Elton John’s music at the time, she said. But David was a rocker and had discovered a new metal band.
“He borrowed my car one day and I had an 8-track tape with Van Halen on it and he thought it was really good,” Bertinelli said. “He saw the back cover with Eddie and said,” It’s cool and it plays good music. “
Van Halen is considered to be one of the greatest guitarists ever performed. A self-taught prodigy, Van Halen reinvented the way a guitar could be played using a tapping technique on the neck that changed the way it played. It also changed the way it was made, often building its own instruments.
Rolling Stone magazine wrote in its October 6 obituary: “Eddie confused rock fans with what became known as” finger tapping, “playing the guitar with two hands, somewhat like a piano, on” Eruption “and other songs. The approach was so groundbreaking that Alex (Van Halen’s brother and bandmate) encouraged him to play with his back to the audience so aspiring ax men wouldn’t steal it before the band had a record deal “.
‘Enchanted with each other’
In the summer of 1980, David moved to Louisiana with his parents when Valerie learned that Van Halen would be playing at a concert in Shreveport. Their brother, Patrick, knew a local radio DJ who had received all the backstage tickets and passes for the show. Valerie was on the first flight there.
“He had in mind, ‘I have to meet this guy Eddie Van Halen,'” said David Bertinelli.
The Bertinellis arrived backstage and Valerie met Eddie. David, who stood nearby with his camera, said the chemistry was instant. She took two photos of them, which Valerie refused to share for this story.
“I was there from the first moment they met. We were all backstage and there were all these other people in the room,” Bertinelli said. “I looked over and they were talking to each other like they were the only two people in the room. They were so entranced with each other. It was great.”
Van Halen was due to perform the next night in Baton Rouge. So Valerie and her brothers went there so she could spend more time with the rocker.
“From there it exploded and a year later they got married,” Bertinelli said.
The two married in April 1981 and were together until July 2001, when they separated. They divorced in 2007 but remained close until the time of his death.
Valerie was at his bedside when he died and hours later she wrote him a heartfelt tribute on social media: “40 years ago my life changed forever when I met you. You gave me the only true light in my life, ours. son, Wolfgang. Through all your challenging lung cancer treatments, you have kept your wonderful wit and that mischievous smile. I am so grateful to Wolfie and have been able to hold you in your final moments. See you in our next life. , my love. “
Traveling with Van Halen
During the couple’s 20 years together, David Bertinelli got to know Van Halen as a man, as well as a musician, and the two became close friends.
Bertinelli was a budding photographer in the early 1980s, so he often went on trips with the band, capturing every moment he could.
“I would take pictures of him,” Bertinelli said. “It was a tough thing because I was a fan and I was taking everything at the same time, but I got some unique shots after the show.”
Earlier this year, Bertinelli began tweeting some of his vintage photos. People’s reactions included many suggesting making a book, he said.
“Patrick said,” You have great pictures. “So I talked briefly with Ed and he agreed with the idea,” Bertinelli said. “My goal was to involve him and comment on the images, but unfortunately it didn’t happen.”
Bertinelli said he took “many hundreds” of photos over the years, most of which have never been seen publicly.
“I was able to capture things that other people couldn’t,” like backstage, on the road, at home and in Van Halen’s famous 5051 studio in California, Bertinelli said.
She is still pursuing the book, even though her late ex-brother-in-law can’t participate in it now. But for Bertinelli the book will be a work of love because “many photos will have stories behind them”.
At home with Van Halen
After marrying Valerie Bertinelli, Van Halen grew up close to the entire Bertinelli family, especially Valerie’s mother, Nancy, who died last year. Valerie’s father retired in 1984 after 32 years with GM and died four years ago. They were both 82 years old.
“There’s a picture of all of us in Louisiana. They’re Ed and Val… our dog, all in the back yard and it fits perfectly,” Bertinelli said. “He’s not a rock star or a guitar god, he’s part of the family.”
Van Halen, an avid skier and snowboarder, also joined David Bertinelli. Bertinelli lived in Park City, Utah for 18 years before moving to Charlevoix, his wife’s hometown 12 years ago. In Utah, he was a ski instructor who had learned to ski as a child in Pine Knob. Van Halen took to the slopes with him whenever he and Valerie visited Park City.
“Once, we were skiing and he took this big, old digger and crashed,” Bertinelli said, describing it as a “sale” because Van Halen’s skis and poles flew in every direction.
“I thought, ‘Are you okay?’ I thought he was injured before going on tour, “Bertinelli said. “But he was fine and I said to him, ‘It looked like an accident in Daytona.’ So sometimes I called him Daytona. But he got up and kept going.”
Bertinelli still teaches skiing at Mount McSauba in Charlevoix.
Cars and Sammy Hagar
The good times of the family extended to life under one roof.
In the late 1980s, Andy, Nancy, Patrick, and David lived with Valerie and Van Halen in her Malibu home.
“My older brother (Drew) lived across the street and at one point Sammy Hagar bought a house nearby,” Bertinelli said. “We had a trampoline in the back and we would all get on the trampoline. The time we spent there was fantastic.”
They made bonfires on the beach and played volleyball together, even recruiting tennis legend John McEnroe to join a match once, Bertinelli said.
“I remember we jumped over the neighbor’s fence to cut through Sammy’s house to see him,” Bertinelli said. The band’s previous lead singer, David Lee Roth, had left the band in April 1985 and Hagar had taken on the job.
Often Hagar and Van Halen only visited to compare their car collections, Bertinelli said.
“And he had a 1960 Volvo that he once owned just because he thought it was a nice car and before he had Mini Coopers, Lamborghinis and a Volkswagen Beetle,” Bertinelli said. “He liked his cars.”
The creation of music
But emphasizing the fun has always been the music, Bertinelli said.
Van Halen knew he had received a gift and wanted to share it with the world, Bertinelli said. This meant constantly creating and practicing music until it was perfect.
“When I went to their house in California and went to sleep on their couch, sometimes Ed would come into the living room and it was late at night,” Bertinelli said. “He would have worked a riff over and over and I would have tried to sleep. But he would have worked all hours of the night to make it perfect.”
Bertinelli said he can recall some of the riffs that interrupted his sleep and turned into hit records, such as “5150” and “Dreams”. Often, his brother-in-law would come to him, cassette in hand, asking Bertinelli for the keys to Bertinelli’s late 1990s Chevrolet S-10 pickup. The two got into the truck, put in the tape, and listened to a song the band recorded from the vehicle’s speakers. Van Halen wanted to hear how the mix sounded in different environments.
“It was nice to hear those songs before anyone else did,” Bertinelli said.
Van Halen’s brother Alex is the band’s drummer. Eddie had started taking classical piano lessons before moving on to drums. But then Alex got better on drums. So Eddie put down his sticks and picked up the guitar, Bertinelli said. The rest, as they say, is history.
“You listen to all of their music and feel the breadth of the music they wrote as a band,” Bertinelli said. “And it has remained true to its roots, but it has always evolved and changed.”
Wolfgang’s natural talent
When Van Halen’s son Wolfgang was born in 1991, it quickly became apparent that the boy had his father’s gift, Bertinelli said.
On a visit to his sister’s home in Los Angeles many years ago, Bertinelli recalls hearing “drums play very well” upstairs.
“I said to Val: ‘What is it?’ and she said, “Oh, Wolfie is up there playing,” said Bertinelli. “Here’s this kid, about 12, going wild. He was a natural talent. He probably learned something from his father, but he had a natural talent.”
Bertinelli said Wolfgang has a solo album on the way. On it he plays all the instruments and sings. He listened to the album and describes it as “fantastic”. Wolfgang performed with the band, replacing bassist Michael Anthony in 2006.
“It saddens me that Ed can’t see him go on the street and thrive,” Bertinelli said.
Van Halen was a loving father, Bertinelli said, spending as much time as he could with Wolfgang on a busy schedule. In fact, Van Halen wrote and performed the instrumental ballad “316” from the album “For Unlawful Carnal Knowledge” for Wolfgang, Bertinelli said. The name of the song comes from Wolfgang’s birthday, 3-16-91, and is intended to express Van Halen’s love for his son and celebrate his birth through music.
Give to Charlevoix
Beyond the music, Van Halen was a generous man with his money and his time.
In August 2019, Bertinelli called Van Halen to ask if the rock star would be willing to donate one of his guitars to Bertinelli’s son’s school, Charlevoix’s St. Mary School, for a fundraiser. Van Halen said, “he doesn’t normally donate his guitars.”
“I asked, ‘Could it be one of your striped reds?’ He didn’t hesitate to say yes, but then said, “But I’m not going to give you the original Frankenstrat. I said, “No, no, man, I know it’s priceless” and it was too personal and worth too much, “Bertinelli said.
Van Halen personally made the Frankenstrat, sometimes called Frankenstein, in the 1970s. It is one of the most famous guitars in the world. He put it together with various odd parts to get the best elements of a Gibson and Fender Stratocaster guitar in one instrument. The original was exhibited in 2019 at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.
The guitar Van Halen donated to the school was an EVH Striped Series 5150. He raised “a good amount” of money for the school, but Bertinelli refused to provide the amount.
MusicRadar reported in 2008 that a similar guitar that Van Halen played on the 1986 5150 tour and signed was valued at $ 35,000- $ 48,000, with the initial offer of $ 25,000 at the time.
The one sold to Charlevoix “was probably the last guitar to be signed by Eddie,” said Bertinelli.
Proceeds go to the music and art program and tuition assistance.
“That’s the way the boy was – he was very generous with everything, including his time and his talent,” Bertinelli said.
But Van Halen was not without flaws.
He lived the life of a rock star, admitting a long struggle with drugs and alcohol, which contributed to the end of his marriage with Valerie. He was also a heavy smoker, possibly contributing to his cancer.
He became sober in 2008. In a 2015 Billboard article, Van Halen said, “I didn’t drink at parties. Alcohol and cocaine were private things for me. I would use them for work. The shot keeps you awake and alcohol lowers inhibitions. . I’m sure there were musical things that I would not have attempted had I not been in that state of mind. You play alone with a tape running and after about an hour your mind goes to a place where you are not thinking about anything. . “
Also, Van Halen has never been completely comfortable with the attention and fame that comes with music, Bertinelli said.
“He was shy to some extent,” Bertinelli said. “He would have done the radio and television interviews, but that wasn’t the first thing he wanted to do. He realized it was something that went with everything.”
Likewise, Van Halen would go with Valerie to her interviews as “a supportive husband,” Bertinelli said. But Van Halen was often involved in performances or even interviewed, he said.
“He was a reluctant star, but he had a God-given talent that people loved,” Bertinelli said. “He wanted to make people happy. This is what he did with his music, his generosity in donating guitars and always dedicating his time. He was just a unique individual. “
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