Originally a papier-mâché mask used in Iron Maiden's stage backdrop, the band transferred the name "Eddie" from the mask to an illustration by Derek Riggs, which was used as the band's debut album cover. Although he is occasionally described as "zombie-like" in the press, Eddie assumes a different guise relating to the themes of individual albums and their corresponding world tours, and has appeared as a cyborg, an Egyptian mummy and a lobotomised mental patient amongst others.
The very first version of Eddie was a mask made by an art student who was friends with Dave (Lights) Beasley, then in charge of lighting, pyrotechnics and other effects for Iron Maiden's live-show. According to Lights, the original mask was a papier-mâché mould of his own face, which was then used in the band's backdrop, consisting of LED lights and the band's logo. At the end of their live set, during the "Iron Maiden" song, a fish-tank pump was used to squirt fake blood out of the mask's mouth, which typically covered their drummer, Doug Sampson. After this initial incarnation, Lights constructed a larger mask out of fibreglass, equipped with flashing eyes and the ability to release red smoke from its mouth.
The band's bassist and founding member, Steve Harris, states that the name "Eddie" comes from the fact that said mask was referred to as "The Head", which sounded like "Ead" in the band members' London accent. According to guitarist Dave Murray the name was also inspired by an old joke:
"A wife had a baby, but it was born with only a head and no body. 'Don't worry,' says the doctor. 'Bring him back in five years time and we'll probably have a body for him'. So five years go by, and there's Eddie the 'Ead, as his parents have called him, sitting on the mantelpiece, when in walks his dad. 'Son,' he says, 'today's a very special day. It's your fifth birthday and we've got a very special surprise for you.' 'Oh no,' says Eddie. 'Not another fucking hat!'"
Once Iron Maiden had secured a record contract with EMI, the band's manager, Rod Smallwood, decided that the band needed "that one figure who utterly stamped his presence and image on the band in a way that was obvious enough to make a good album cover." After seeing some of his artwork on a Max Middleton poster, Smallwood set up a meeting with Derek Riggs and asked to see some of his other illustrations, in the midst of which was the band's first album cover. Originally created as an idea for a punk record, which Riggs states in the 12 Wasted Years documentary was based on an alleged American's skull stuck to a Vietnamese tank, the band had extra hair added to the illustration, making it more suitable to their style of music, and transferred the name from the original masks they used onstage. Surmising that the creature had "great visual continuity," Smallwood decided it would be used for all of the band's artwork.
Smallwood claims that Rupert Perry, EMI's then managing director, came up with the idea that Eddie could become a more active part of the band's concerts, originally portrayed by Smallwood himself, wearing an Eddie mask and a leather jacket. The classic "walk-on" Eddie was created for The Beast on the Road tour by Dave Lights after seeing a pantomime version of Jack and the Beanstalk, which used similar giants consisting of "basically a bloke on stilts but dressed up to look about ten feet tall." As the band's stage show expanded, an additional gigantic Eddie was also incorporated at the back of the set during "Iron Maiden", which, like the "walk-on" Eddie, would match the theme of the current tour, such as the 30-foot, mummified version used during the World Slavery Tour which shot sparks from its eyes.
Eddie's debut appearance was on the band's first single cover, "Running Free," in which his face was covered by shadow to protect his identity before the release of the band's first album. Since then, Eddie has assumed a different guise for each cover, such as a "mummified Egyptian god" for Powerslave, a lobotomised mental patient for Piece of Mind, emerging from a grave in Live After Death, and a cyborg for Somewhere in Time.
Some of the band's artworks have proved controversial, such as the cover of "Sanctuary," in which Eddie can be seen standing over the corpse of Margaret Thatcher. It was claimed that Iron Maiden were banned from releasing the single without censoring the cover, blacking out Thatcher's face, although Riggs has since claimed that this was fabricated by the band's management to gain publicity in the British tabloids.
The most amount of controversy, however, was reserved for the band's third album, The Number of the Beast, whose artwork depicted Eddie controlling Satan like a marionette. Originally created by Riggs for the "Purgatory" single cover, but deemed too good by Smallwood and withheld for the next studio release, the image, along with the record's title track, led to the Moral Majority labelling Iron Maiden as Satanists and organising public burnings of their back-catalogue in the United States, which in turn gave them a large amount of publicity.
Gibson.com described Eddie in 2008 as "the most recognizable metal icon in the world and one of the most versatile too," while in 2009 Gigwise called him "perhaps the most enduring band mascot of all time." Many artists who have been influenced by Iron Maiden hold their artwork in high regard, with Joey Jordison of Slipknot commenting that he bought his first album "on the strength of the cover alone" and Corey Taylor, also of Slipknot, stating that "there wasn't a dude that I hung out with that wasn't trying to draw Eddie on their schoolbooks."Steve-O, from Jackass, says that they have "the coolest album covers in the music industry" and Lars Ulrich, of Metallica, comments that "they had the best packaging, the coolest T-shirts — everything."Mick Wall describes Eddie as "the immortal soul of Iron Maiden, the defining symbol of the eternally youthful, blissfully uncompromising spirit of the band's music."
From 1980 onwards, the band's Eddie artwork was provided exclusively by Derek Riggs until 1992, when the band decided to accept contributions from other artists, with Smallwood explaining that they "wanted to upgrade Eddie for the '90s. We wanted to take him from this sort of comic-book horror creature and turn him into something a bit more straightforward so that he became even more threatening." Since then, Riggs has contributed much less to the band's artwork, creating part of one studio album, one single and two compilation covers, while the band have employed a number of different artists:
Hugh Syme, noted for both his album cover work and guest musician appearances for the Canadian progressive rock band Rush, provided the artwork for The X Factor, the band's first digitally illustrated cover.
Although not listed on the record's release, the From Fear to Eternity album sleeve credits David Patchett with creating the Dance of Death cover. According to MusicRadar, Patchett asked for his name to be removed from the album's credits after the band decided to use an unfinished version of his design. The artwork was negatively received, with Sputnikmusic deeming it "terrible".
Anthony Dry created the "El Dorado" and "The Final Frontier" radio promo covers, featuring Melvyn Grant's The Final Frontier Eddie in a comic book cover style.
Iron Maiden, the first artwork featuring Eddie, originally created for a possible punk record, based on an American's head allegedly stuck to a Vietnamese tank.
"Running Free", the band's first release to depict Eddie, painted after the album cover so his face was hidden to protect his identity.
"Sanctuary", showing Eddie above Margaret Thatcher's corpse, wielding a knife. According to Riggs, the band's management censored the image themselves to gain publicity.
"Women in Uniform", according to Riggs features Margaret Thatcher getting "her own back" on Eddie.
Killers, featuring Eddie with an axe and his victim clawing at his shirt. Based on a block of flats in which Riggs lived at the time, it contains several references to the band, such as the "Ruskin Arms" and "Charlotte the Harlot".
"Twilight Zone", features Eddie's spirit reaching towards a woman through a mirror. According to Rod Smallwood, Iron Maiden's manager, the band were criticised as Eddie appeared to be attacking the woman.
"Purgatory", depicts the devil's face crumbling away to reveal Eddie.
Maiden Japan, shows Eddie with a Samurai sword. The cover was painted at short notice as the original, featuring Eddie decapitating Paul Di'Anno, was withdrawn as the band were considering replacing him.
The Number of the Beast, depicts Eddie controlling the Devil like a puppet, who, in turn, also controls a puppet Eddie, causing controversy with American evangelists. Originally painted for the "Purgatory" song, Smallwood withheld the artwork for the following album, deeming it too good for a single.
Seventh Son of a Seventh Son, depicts a surreal Eddie with most of his body removed, which Riggs claims was because he was "sick of painting him" and this would mean there would not be as much of him to draw. Riggs also comments that he set it in a "polar landscape" after seeing a documentary on the North Pole, and that Eddie's head on fire was inspired by Arthur Brown.
No Prayer for the Dying, shows Eddie bursting out of another grave. Unlike the band's previous artworks, in which he would retain the same features gained with each release (such as the Piece of Mind lobotomy), Eddie returned to how he was in the first few albums.
"Holy Smoke", depicting Eddie destroying a group of televisions broadcasting TV evangelists, who the song itself attacks.
The X Factor, created by Hugh Syme, shows Eddie on an operating table with most of his insides showing. Due to the cover's graphic nature, the band had to provide a less-violent alternative consisting of a similar Eddie from a distance.
"Futureal", also by Riggs, Eddie appears as a statue head with his brain exposed. Alternate covers for these two singles are renders of Eddie as he would appear in Ed Hunter.
Ed Hunter, featuring the version of Eddie used in the game.
Brave New World, this Eddie originally appeared in a cloud of smoke coming from a burning "Wicker Man" Eddie, a piece of artwork created by Derek Riggs, but was removed and placed into the album art, wherein his cloud form looms over a futuristic version of London.
Best of the 'B' Sides, depicts Eddie mooning from behind the wheel of a truck (with the words "Up the Irons" written across his rear end), illustrated by Mark Wilkinson. Wilkinson also designed the Eddie's Archive embossed metal case.
The Final Frontier, shows Eddie as an Extraterrestrial retrieving a key from a space ship. The artwork caused controversy as it was vastly different from the band's past covers, confusing many fans claiming that it was not Eddie. Melvyn Grant himself has since stated that the new monster "is not Eddie," although the band members state that it is.
From Fear to Eternity, created by Melvyn Grant, shows three different incarnations: the Wicker Man Eddie from the "Wicker Man" single, the tank-riding Eddie from the A Matter of Life and Death album cover and a cross between the Dance of Death, Fear of the Dark and The Final Frontier Eddies.
^"That's not Eddie on Maiden cover". Rock Radio. Archived from the original on 14 August 2010. Retrieved 11 October 2011. "someone said to me at the beginning: 'You've split the fan base in half.' "Some people really hate it – the things some of them wanted to do to me on the forums, you wouldn't believe. I think they wanted Eddie to eat me..."