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Eddie Van Halen Was In Back To The Future And You Didn't Even Know It

Rock fans were devastated to learn on October 6, 2020 that Eddie Van Halen had passed away at 65 years of age following what his son, Wolfgang Van Halen, described as a "long and arduous battle with cancer" (via Twitter). Over a career spanning several decades, he helped revitalize the hard rock genre, inspired a generation of music-lovers, and contributed to numerous memorable moments in pop culture history that often extended beyond the scope of the musical stage. Putting aside the infectious songs written and performed with his namesake band alongside his brother Alex Van Halen, Mark Stone, and David Lee Roth, Eddie Van Halen performed the classic guitar solo on Michael Jackson's "Beat It," had a voice cameo on Frasier, and was immortalized as a stop-motion, undead rock-and-roll hamburger in 1985's Better Off Dead.

That same year, the rock star made another, more obscure addition to the world of cinema when he was included in Back to the Future — director Robert Zemeckis' sci-fi adventure flick that made Michael J. Fox a household name, made everyone realize who really invented rock-and-roll, and made hundreds of millions of dollars at the box office.

However, Van Halen's quote-unquote "appearance" in Back to the Future was so subtle and unconventional that it may have snuck right by you. 

Back to the Future's Darth Vader, brought to you by Eddie Van Halen

In case you're rusty, the scene in question shows franchise protagonist Marty McFly (Michael J. Fox) sneaking into his then-teenage father's room in the middle of the night circa 1955, hoping to scare him into action with some science-fiction skullduggery. Dressed in a hazmat suit, Marty places a pair of headphones over his sleeping dad's ears, then plugs a cassette tape into his Walkman. The tape is labeled "Edward Van Halen," and the accompanying electric guitar wailing that sounds out when Marty presses play and wakes his father certainly lives up to the name. When the elder McFly asks him who he is, Marty answers that his "name is Darth Vader," then quips, "Silence, Earthling!"

For years after Back to the Future's release, fans wondered whether the real Eddie Van Halen played the music heard on the "Edward Van Halen" cassette tape. Speaking in an on-the-fly interview with TMZ interview in 2012 ("interview" is a strong word, as it happened on an airport escalator), Van Halen confirmed that it's true – those are his '80s-tastic guitar riffs you hear in Back to the Future.

The guitar legend never made a big deal about it; he called the recording "just a bunch of noise" — which, to be fair, it is — but it's still one of those fun Back to the Future details that are hard not to love. While he didn't provide the guitar track for "Johnny B. Goode" (that was guitarist Tim May) or kick in on the songs by Huey Lewis and the News, Van Halen did indeed play a part in exploding the eardrums of Crispin Glover's young George McFly, and that deserves some applause in its own right.

Other famous faces who appeared in the Back to the Future films

Eddie Van Halen wasn't the only rock star to make a subtle cameo in Back to the Future. Huey Lewis, generally seen in the company of the News, appears as the guy who labels Marty's band "just too darn loud." Flea (real name: Michael Peter Balzary), the longtime bassist for the Red Hot Chili Peppers, shows up in both Back to the Future sequels as Marty's longtime frenemy Needles. 

In a less subtle cameo, ZZ Top performs during Part III, playing the 1885 Hill Valley Fair. A young Elijah Wood also appears as the kid trying to play the old arcade game in Part II, but that wouldn't count as a celebrity Easter egg — unless you had some kind of time machine.