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"When I was young, the debut Van Halen record was the first album I ever owned," says acclaimed muralist Robert Vargas, who created the work

By Darlene Aderoju
January 27, 2021 02:45 PM
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Eddie Van Halen mural
Robert Vargas at the mural
| Credit: Courtesy Guitar Center

Eddie Van Halen is being honored in an incredible way.

On Tuesday, a mural titled "Long Live the King," created by acclaimed artist Robert Vargas in collaboration with Guitar Center, was unveiled on the Sunset Strip in Hollywood, California in recognition of what would have been the late guitarist's 66th birthday.

Vargas tells PEOPLE how accomplished he feels to have delivered such a stunning work of art in a "completely free-hand [with] all brush work, no grids, no projections and no stencils" style in just about 10 days.

"I feel exhilarated," he says. "It's a triumph. Creating the mural for Eddie Van Halen was a labor of love. I was able to not only express my admiration and appreciation for him, but also share it with fans along the way. To have such global support for this mural was really rewarding. In the end, I think it was an incredible day."

The gifted muralist also tells PEOPLE what he loved most about the legendary musician that inspired him to take on the immense project. "Eddie Van Halen is one of my creative heroes," Vargas explains. "He has inspired me in so many ways throughout my life. Who didn't want to be Eddie Van Halen when they were a kid?"

The two even shared a special communication ahead of the late star's death. He recounts, "To have had a connection and conversation with him about the creative process and where it comes from, although he did something very creatively different than what I do, there's something that intersects creatively even though it was a different medium."

"[Eddie] got to see me draw and was totally into it," Vargas tells PEOPLE. "To connect on that level, and full circle connect and come back through my creative process to create something that celebrates him and his creative process, and share it with the world — this just means everything because it really felt like a dialogue with him, one last time, right there on the wall while I was creating it."

Eddie Van Halen mural
Eddie Van Halen
| Credit: Courtesy Guitar Center

In fact, Vargas also reveals that the band Van Halen's self-titled debut album was the first record he ever owned.

"Eddie Van Halen was a truly monumental force in rock music," Jean-Claude Escudie, Guitar Center category manager, says in a statement about the unveiling. "He made lead guitar playing popular when it might have been slipping away ... Besides that, sometimes people forget that he was an immigrant and multi-racial, so in so many ways, his story is the story of the American experience."

On Instagram Wednesday, Van Halen's son Wolf, 29, expressed his thanks for the mural, writing, "I want to extend my most heartfelt gratitude to the unfathomably talented @therobertvargas, and @guitarcenter for the painting of this incredible mural of my father at Guitar Center Hollywood. What an incredible honor it is to see Pop immortalized in such a beautiful way."

He shared two videos accompanied with a heartfelt tribute in remembrance of his late dad's birthday on Twitter Tuesday, writing, "I wish I could give you the biggest hug and celebrate it with you. I love and miss you so much it hurts."

In his second post, Wolf wrote, "Not a second has gone by where you haven't been on my mind, and today will be no different."

Wolf hopes that one day, a farewell celebration will be held in acknowledgement of Van Halen's tremendous work as a trailblazing guitarist. He wrote on Twitter, "Just to be clear though... there absolutely should be a tribute show done at some point, and there will be. A show. Not some tour parading around the country. There's a huge difference."

Van Halen died on Oct. 6 after a decade-long battle with cancer. He was 65. At the time of his death, many fellow stars shared their beloved memories with him.

Eddie Van Halen mural
Eddie Van Halen Mural
| Credit: Courtesy Guitar Center

One thing he was known for was his signature smile and ability to push through even the most difficult times. Gene Simmons told PEOPLE not long after 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."

"He always had that on," Simmons continued. "Whether he was onstage playing for packed houses or in videos or meeting a stranger. He just smiles and says, 'Hey, how you doing?'"