Legendary Rocker Tom Petty Dead at 66
Legendary US rocker Tom Petty died on Monday after suffering cardiac arrest.
The artist, who gained famed with such hits as “Refugee,” “Free Fallin’” and “American Girl,” was 66.
He was found unconscious at his home in Malibu early on Monday morning and was taken to UCLA Medical Center but could not be revived, his long-time manager Tony Dimitriades said in a statement.
“We are devastated to announce the untimely death of our father, husband, brother, leader and friend Tom Petty,” Dimitriades said on behalf of the family.
He died peacefully at 8:40 p.m. local time (0340 GMT Tuesday) surrounded by family, his bandmates and friends.
Bob Dylan called his death “shocking, crushing news” in a statement to Rolling Stone magazine.
With his vibrant guitar riffs, distinctly raw, nasal vocals and slick song lyric, Petty was best known for his roots-infused rock music. He carved a career as a solo artist as well as with his band The Heartbreakers and as part of supergroup The Traveling Wilburys.
Petty and The Heartbreakers embarked on a 40th anniversary tour of the United States this year and last played three dates in late September at the Hollywood Bowl in Los Angeles. The band was scheduled to perform two dates in New York in November.
“I’m thinking it may be the last trip around the country,” Petty told Rolling Stone last year. “We’re all on the backside of our 60s. I have a granddaughter now I’d like to see as much as I can. I don’t want to spend my life on the road. This tour will take me away for four months. With a little kid, that’s a lot of time.”
Petty formed The Heartbreakers in the mid 1970s, but it wasn’t until the band’s third album “Damn the Torpedoes” in 1979 that their music really took off, with hits such as “Refugee” and “Don’t Do Me Like That.”
He and the band were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2002, when they were described by organizers as “the quintessential American individualists”, capturing the voice of the American everyman.
“Music, as far as I have seen in the world so far, is the only real magic that I know,” Petty once said during an interview with CNN. “There is something really honest and clean and pure and it touches you in your heart.”
Petty also co-founded the 1980s supergroup The Traveling Wilburys with Dylan, Roy Orbison, George Harrison and Jeff Lynne, penning hits such as “End of the Line” and “She’s My Baby.”
Dylan said in his statement that Petty was “a great performer, full of the light, a friend, and I’ll never forget him.”
Ex-Beatle Ringo Starr wrote on Twitter: “God bless Tom Petty peace and love to his family I‘m sure going to miss you Tom.”
“I’m shocked and saddened by the news of Tom’s passing, he’s such a huge part of our musical history, there’ll never be another like him.” Eric Clapton wrote in a statement.
Petty was born on October 20, 1950 in Florida. He had a rough childhood and did not do well in school, according to the New York Times. He caught the rock‘n‘roll bug after he was introduced by his uncle to Elvis Presley, who was shooting the picture “Follow That Dream” on location in Florida in 1960.
Petty was both a musician and obsessive fan, one who met his childhood heroes and lived out the fantasies of countless young rock lovers. He befriended Byrds leader Roger McGuinn and became close to George Harrison. Petty inducted Harrison into the Rock Hall in 2004; two years earlier Dylan’s son Jakob inducted Petty. In the 1980s, Petty and the Heartbreakers supported Bob Dylan on a nationwide tour.
He would speak of being consumed by rock music since childhood, to the point where his father, whom Petty would later say beat him savagely, thought he was “mental.” Awed by the chiming guitars of the Byrds, the melodic genius of the Beatles and the snarling lyrics of Dylan, he was amazed to find that other kids were feeling the same way.
“You’d go and see some other kid whose hair was long, this was around ’65, and go, ‘Wow, there’s one like me,'” he told The Associated Press in 1989. “You’d go over and talk and he’d say, ‘I’ve got a drum set.’ ‘You do? Great!’ That was my whole life.”
By his early 20s, Petty had formed the group Mudcrutch with fellow Gainesville natives and future Heartbreakers (guitarist) Mike Campbell and (keyboardist) Benmont Tench. They soon broke up, but reunited in Los Angeles as the Heartbreakers, joined by bassist Ron Blair and drummer Stan Lynch. Their eponymous debut album came out in 1976 and they soon built a wide following, fitting easily into the New Wave sounds of the time.
The world changed more than Petty did over the past few decades. In 2014, around the time he received an ASCAP Founders Award, he told The Associated Press that he thought of himself as “kind of a music historian.”
“I’m always interested in the older music, and I’m still always discovering things that I didn’t know about,” he said. “To be honest, I really probably spend more time listening to the old stuff than I do the new stuff.”
Amid his successes, Petty also suffered dark periods during a career spanning five decades.
A 2015 biography of the singer, “Petty: The Biography,” revealed for the first time the rocker’s heroin addiction in the 1990s.
Author Warren Zanes said in an interview with The Washington Post that Petty had succumbed to the drug because he “had had encounters with people who did heroin, and he hit a point in his life when he did not know what to do with the pain he was feeling”.
Petty also suffered from depression, channeling his pain into 1999’s “Echo,” during which he was also dealing with a divorce. In 2002, he married Dana York and told Reuters that he had been in therapy for six years to deal with depression.
“It’s a funny disease because it takes you a long time to really come to terms with the fact that you’re sick – medically sick, you’re not just suddenly going out of your mind,” he said at the time.