Eddie Van Halen Was Offered A Role In All Three Bill & Ted Movies

"Bill & Ted Face the Music" was one of my favorite movies that I saw during lockdown. I saw many better films too, but there was something about the eternal optimism and good nature of William S. Preston, Esq. (Alex Winter) and Theodore Logan (Keanu Reeves) that made them feel like the kind of heroes we needed during a pandemic, one of the weirdest and most uncertain situations many of us have ever experienced.

Stuck at home for far longer than natural, it was comforting to hang out with old screen pals in lieu of our real-life friends. This may be why the era of COVID-19 also saw the unlikely phenomenon of people binge-watching old episodes of "Columbo." Perhaps there isn't too much difference between Bill and Ted and Peter Falk's shambling detective. The movies and the show are set in sunny California; the stakes are low; and the protagonists are unassuming, friendly, and most importantly of all, kind. 

Aside from the cozy factor, the third installment of the "Bill & Ted" franchise also came as a surprise because it wasn't sh**e. Released almost 30 years after "Bill & Ted's Bogus Journey," it was remarkably consistent in tone and spirit to the original movies, obviously a labor of love for everyone involved. Unlike the embarrassing spectacle of watching Jim Carrey and Jeff Daniels in their mid-50s reprising their roles as Lloyd and Harry in "Dumb and Dumber To," Winter and Reeves slipped back into their old characters with ease, making it seem totally believable that these were the same dudes who once rocked out in their garage as Wyld Stallyns and dreamed of jamming with Eddie Van Halen. If only they could have persuaded the legendary guitar hero to appear in the movie...

Eddie Van Halen's influence on Bill & Ted

A few years before everyone was rocking out to "Bohemian Rhapsody" in their cars and shouting things like "Schwing!" and "Party on!" you had the air guitar from "Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure." Unlike the ironic knowingness of "Wayne's World," there was an innocent exuberance to the gesture, which Bill and Ted used as an expression of happiness, agreement, or triumph.

While Bill and Ted may have been the ones who helped spread the air guitar into popular culture beyond rock music, they were by no means the inventors. The history of the air guitar can be traced as far back as the 1860s when pretending to play an invisible instrument was regarded as a sign of mental illness, while Joe Cocker miming the opening notes of a tune onstage at Woodstock in 1969 is regarded as the "formative moment" of the gesture.

Skip forward another 20 years and the boys' use of the air guitar is clearly inspired by their taste in music. As Southern Californian lads growing up in the '80s, we're talking AC/DC, ZZ Top, Kiss, Megadeth, Iron Maiden, Frank Zappa, and, of course, Van Halen. Alex Winter explained (via Rolling Stone):

"The image that Eddie had runs through all of our movies. Bill and Ted are supposed to be into hard rock. But were these sunny, optimistic California guys. And that's really embodied by Eddie Van Halen. We talk about Iron Maiden a lot, but I think we would have come up listening to Van Halen and the positivity that was infused in the music. [...] ​​And I always thought of Eddie's incredible physicality with the air guitar stuff, and just the way these guys would have seen him and how that would have impacted them."

Eddie Van Halen was approached for all three Bill & Ted movies

It's always a thing of pure joy watching a musician with absolute mastery of their instrument, both fully in command while also completely surrendering themselves to it. If you watch a video of Eddie Van Halen performing his epic solo of "Eruption," you'll see the motion that Bill and Ted mimic so often in the movies: Yanking the fret skywards, fingers flying along the fret as if wrangling a powerful beast, perhaps a Wyld Stallyn. Yet for all his virtuosity, Eddie Van Halen was a modest, laidback character in contrast to David Lee Roth, the extroverted, pouting, poodle-permed frontman of the band.

Van Halen was so important to the vibe of the "Bill & Ted" trilogy that attempts were made to cast him in all three films, most notably as Rufus, the duo's time-traveling guide. Unfortunately, the sleeper hit original didn't have the budget for a rock star of Van Halen's status at the time. Alex Winter remembered (via Rolling Stone):

"We tried to get Van Halen into each one of the movies. [Laughs]. We asked him, but he said no. A very 'Spinal Tap' moment. [Laughs]. He was a famously private person and he wasn't, you know, the front man. He was extremely charismatic and he was always very genteel, but he always turned us down."

After Van Halen's death in 2020, screenwriter Ed Solomon revealed that the guitarist had once again been approached to play a part in "Bill & Ted Face the Music," but his representatives turned them down without revealing why. Solomon surmised that Van Halen's battle with throat cancer may have been the reason. It is sad that Bill and Ted never got to play alongside their hero; but with Van Halen's influence on the three movies, they still pay a fitting tribute to the legend.