Whatever Happened To David Lee Roth?

"Will you won't you will you won't you will you won't you join the dance?" sang the Mock Turtle to Alice in the midst of Wonderland. The next time the story gets filmed the producers should consider casting David Lee Roth or Eddie Van Halen as the Turtle. Either. Both.

Roth is the explosively flamboyant front man for Van Halen, itself an explosively influential band that tore up the charts and pop culture during its incredible run. (Honestly, you get exhausted just reading about them.) Roth was born in Bloomington, Indiana, in 1954, per Biography. The family moved to California when he was a teenager and he began to take his lifelong love of music to the stage. He teamed up with the Van Halen brothers — Eddie on guitar, Alex on drums — after meeting at Pasadena City College. Originally called Mammoth, they discovered another band with that name — similar stories abound, including The Grateful Dead and Pink Floyd — and they became Van Halen. The brothers were just as driven as Roth. (And continue to be. Rolling Stone quotes Eddie telling CNN, "My whole life has been music. I could not imagine anything else. It's a must. It has to be taught." So he donated 75 guitars to the Mr. Holland's Opus foundation, which provides instruments to students in low-income schools.)

David Lee Roth fronted Van Halen

Roth wrote lyrics, delivered in a voice sometimes referred to as "primal." Long hair, spandex, showmanship, and an after-show lifestyle that, according to Roth, made devoted hedonists like Led Zeppelin "look like Boy Scouts," combined to create a pop culture force of nature. His greatest success with the band came with the album 1984, and he stretched his creative wings by directing some of the videos used to promote the recordings, including the justly infamous "Hot for Teacher."

The "stretching wings" part of the story eventually included Roth striking out on solo projects. He broke with Van Halen, replaced by Sammy Hagar — he and Roth famously did not get along, generally seen as musical rivals over the years — and released a series of recordings that were marked departures from Van Halen's signature sound. By the mid-1990s, his star was in its descent. He tried a reunion with Van Halen in 1996, but it fizzled fairly quickly. He published his autobiography (Crazy from the Heat) in 1997, and in 2002 he and Hagar kissed and made up long enough to tour together. And in a stunning professional 180, Roth trained to become a licensed EMT in New York. In another 180, he briefly replaced Howard Stern on radio when Stern moved to satellite.

Besides singing, Roth directed some of the band's music videos

In yet another 180, Roth reunited with Van Halen in 2007, the year they were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and went on to record and tour in 2012. Van Halen hasn't been seen much since 2015 (around the time that Roth was making headlines for studying martial arts in Japan.) A 2019 Van Halen reunion never happened, and shortly after Rolling Stone quoted Roth as saying, "I think Van Halen's finished." But Roth himself was still ticking.

As Ultimate Classic Rock reports, in early 2020 he set down his bow staff long enough to inform the world that he'd inherited Van Halen's "legacy," while promoting his solo residency at the House of Blues in Las Vegas.

It's pretty clear that he feels more or less entitled to that legacy, since it was more or less his to begin with. "When I was music director for Van Halen, the first seven years — when I left, that's when the music changed as well as the vocal — I bullied, harassed, threatened and insulted till I got my way, and we sold 14 million records.

The world is his stage

"I'm sorry. I officially apologize," he said. "But what we also officially bolted into place, inexorably and until the last syllable of time, is a universal sound." That's in sharp contrast to Eddie Van Halen's 2015 interview — again, quoted by Rolling Stone: "Roth's perception of himself is different than who he is in reality. We're not in our 20s anymore. We're in our 60s. Act like you're 60. I stopped coloring my hair, because I know I'm not going to be young again."

Sammy Hagar has some personal experience on both sides of the issue — in 2002 he and Roth toured together as solo acts, but it wasn't much fun for anyone except maybe the audience. At no time did they appear on stage together, and at some venues, an actual wall had to be built to keep them apart backstage. 

Depending on which one you ask, the band is either Runnin' With the Devil or incapable of driving 55. Though Roth thinks Van Halen is "finished", Hagar begs to disagree. In a story published May 20, 2020, he told Rolling Stone: "Until Ed or Alex Van Halen die, they're not finished." And neither is David Lee Roth. Since his Vegas residency is on hold, he's hopped into the world of visual arts — posting weekly frog-themed art on Twitter. Say what you want about the man, but he's never afraid to Jump! into something new.