Valerie Bertinelli Was a Fresh-Faced 21-Year-Old on Her First PEOPLE Cover — and Still Has a Piece from the Shoot

“I was such a baby!” Bertinelli tells PEOPLE of her 1981 cover

<p><a href="">John Russo</a></p> Valerie Bertinelli on the cover of PEOPLE in 1981; Bertinelli in 2024

Valerie Bertinelli has been gracing the cover of PEOPLE for over 40 years.

This week's cover star was just 21 when she made her first appearance on the front page in 1981. The young One Day at a Time star had married Eddie Van Halen seven months earlier and posed with him for the story.

“I was such a baby!” Bertinelli, now 63, tells PEOPLE.

The opening spread featured Bertinelli sitting on a diving board. Editors made a clever pun about how she was "happily over the deep end about her rocker husband."

Valerie Bertinelli on the cover of PEOPLE in 1981
Valerie Bertinelli on the cover of PEOPLE in 1981

“I still have those cowboy boots, and I love them!” she says of the shoes she wore for the photo shoot.

Bertinelli and Van Halen cuddled up, rode bikes and shared a smooch while painting a deck in the nostalgic pictures.

Related: How Valerie Bertinelli Freed Herself from Body Shame and Learned to 'Indulge' in Food, Life and Love (Exclusive)

Valerie Bertinelli in PEOPLE in 1981
Valerie Bertinelli in PEOPLE in 1981

The two divorced in 2007. In her most recent cover story, she opened up about Van Halen, who died in 2020 at age 65, after a long battle with throat cancer.

“The grief is that he can’t be here to see Wolfie flourish,” she said of their only child, Wolfgang, 33, a Grammy-nominated songwriter and bass guitarist whose band, Mammoth WVH, is now on tour. “There was so much more to explore as parents of this wonderful son.”

“Every time I’m at a show with Wolfie, I just imagine holding Ed’s hand, saying, ‘Can you believe this is happening?’ It’s wistful thinking,” she added. “I don’t wish that Ed and I had gotten back together. It was wistful because of what we had but couldn’t sustain.”

Wolfgang also wrote a poignant essay for PEOPLE. "She’s the only parent I have, so it’s important to make that time count because it doesn’t last forever," he said. "I wish I could have spent more time with my dad — he’s the reason I do what I do — but I can’t. I can spend time with my mom, and it’s the best. She’s the best."

Related: Valerie Bertinelli Reveals the ‘Three-Week Rule’ That’s Keeping Her New Romance Alive (Exclusive)

<p><a href="" data-component="link" data-source="inlineLink" data-type="externalLink" data-ordinal="1" rel="nofollow">John Russo</a></p> Valerie Bertinelli's 2024 cover

PEOPLE is looking back on memorable features in honor of the 50th anniversary. The magazine partnered with Fotografiska New York to launch its first-ever museum exhibition.

Titled PEOPLE: Celebrating 50 Years, the exhibit will open in New York City on May 9, 2024, and feature archival covers, multimedia elements and interactive opportunities for visitors to turn themselves into a PEOPLE cover star.

To purchase tickets, click here.

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