While his death sent shockwaves around the world, it was only those closest to him who knew how truly sick he was.
Sources close Van Halen told PEOPLE that the rocker's health was failing over the last few days after suffering from cancer for years — and his family made sure to keep him safe during the coronavirus pandemic.
"During the quarantine, everyone around Eddie was even more cautious about his health and his family truly protected him," the source said. "He had throat cancer for years but it spread — it was in all his organs."
"The last three days it was a rapid decline," the source added. "Sadly, the hard-partying lifestyle physically takes its toll on you eventually."
Another insider tells PEOPLE that while "everybody knew that he had cancer," many close to Van Halen were unaware of the extent of his illness.
"He's had it for years but nobody knew it was this serious," the second source told the outlet.
Van Halen’s son, Wolfgang, confirmed the news via Twitter, writing, “My father, Edward Lodewijk Van Halen, lost his long and arduous battle with cancer this morning.”
"He was the best father I could ever ask for," he shared. "Every moment I’ve shared with him on and off stage was a gift. My heart is broken and I don’t think I’ll ever fully recover from this loss."
Van Halen's death will hit his 29-year-old son Wolfgang especially hard since the two had a special relationship.
"He and Wolfie were incredibly close," the source says, referring to Wolf by his family nickname. "It's a huge loss to his son in particular because they were so tight."
The guitarist’s bandmate, singer Sammy Hagar, tweeted that he is “heartbroken and speechless.”
Van Halen — who founded the legendary band, which was named after his family, along with older brother Alex Van Halen in 1972 — was unquestionably one of rock ‘n’ roll’s most lauded guitarists, named No. 8 in Rolling Stone’s list of the 100 all-time greatest guitarists. His unique playing style helped define the rock and metal genres, as well as anchored one of the most successful bands in rock history.
Despite a changing lineup, which included fellow stars David Lee Roth and his vocal successor Hagar, Van Halen would remain the epicenter of the group’s consistent popularity and chart-climbing output all the way up to its final album in 2012. The band was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2007.
Van Halen’s work is also immortalized in other iconic musical projects, including his guitar solo on Michael Jackson‘s “Beat It.”
Van Halen reportedly had been fighting cancer for several years before his illness was publicly revealed in 2019. He was diagnosed with tongue cancer in 2000 but had an all-clear bill of health by 2002.
Earlier this year, Roth, a.k.a. Diamond Dave, hinted that Van Halen’s health was going downhill. “Ed (Van Halen)’s not doing well, and singing and dancing is a perishable skill,” he told the Las Vegas Review Journal in January. “If you have the capacity, it’s something that has to be used routinely, if not for the thrill of it and the magic of creating with other incandescent spirits.”
Heaven just got another rock god... RIP, Eddie.