How The ’96 VMAs Cost Van Halen Their Chance At Being More Than ’80s Greats

Features Writer
08.26.16 23 Comments


In 1985, when lead singer David Lee Roth quit Van Halen, they were one of the biggest bands in rock and roll. Of their six records, two were certified Diamond, and four certified Platinum, they’d toured the world more than a half dozen times and their songs dominated the charts. Despite their future briefly looking uncertain, the band hired vocalist Sammy Hagar to replace Roth, and Van Halen managed to reinvent themselves, ushering in a new era for the band that would last another 11 years. That is, until Hagar left Van Halen in the summer of 1996 over the direction the band was headed, thanks in part to new management, once again throwing their existence into turmoil.

On Sept. 5, 1996, however, the band shocked the world when they appeared on stage with their original frontman at the MTV VMAs. The excitement in the room was overwhelming, and along with thunderous applause, they also got a standing ovation from the crowd. Immediately, everyone anticipated this was the beginning of a full-fledged reunion, though it turned out that their appearance that night would open old wounds and bring back a lot of animosity between the former bandmates that couldn’t be overcome. The fallout from the event was considerable; so much so that Rolling Stone called it both one of the most outrageous moments in VMA history, and a defining moment in one of the all-time great rock and roll feuds.

So, what exactly happened that night that turned a one-off appearance into a months-long PR nightmare for the band? Let’s take a look at the moment in question.