Gene Simmons knew Van Halen guitarist Eddie Van Halen for more than 40 years. From the time he first signed the then-aspiring rocker after hearing a demo cassette in 1972 until the old friends met up six years ago by chance in Beverly Hills, the one thing that didn’t change was the late artist’s bright attitude and million-dollar smile.
The Kiss bassist shared one of his cherished memories of EVH — who died on Oct. 6 at age 65 following a years-long battle with cancer — in a new interview, recalling how they ran into each other in 2014 and how Van Halen was handling his cancer diagnosis. “I ran into Eddie on Sunset Boulevard. This was after he caught the disease and I didn’t know what to say to him,” Simmons, 71, told People. “I didn’t want to bring up the subject. Should I grab him and hug him and tell him how sorry I am? Should I put my hand on his shoulder?”
Simmons said Van Halen had the perfect reaction: He brought up the elephant in the room himself, saying, “‘Hey, man, I got cancer. What are you gonna do?’ and he smiled,” recalled Simmons. And while the disease would ultimately lead to his death, Simmons said the guitarist seemed to have a positive attitude, leading with his legendary smile.
“He just sort of shrugged. He was like, ‘Hey, wanna get a hot dog or something?’ And he just walked off — not looking for sympathy or anything,” Simmons said of Van Halen, who was honored on Saturday Night Live this weekend when Jack White played one of his signature guitars. “He really seemed to enjoy life.”
Simmons recalls the moment he learned of Van Halen’s death. “When I was shocked to find out Eddie had passed, the first image that hit me — so help me God — was Eddie Van Halen grinning from ear to ear with that big, huge, million-dollar smile.”
Check out a touching tribute from Eddie’s widow, Janie Liszewski, here.