A new Tom Petty biography by writer Warren Zanes reveals that the musician struggled with heroin addiction in the ’90s, a facet of his life he’s purposely kept out of the spotlight until now.
“The first thing [Petty] said to me on the subject is, ‘I am very concerned that talking about this is putting a bad example out there for young people. If anyone is going to think heroin is an option because they know my story of using heroin, I can’t do this,'” Zanes said in a recent interview with The Washington Post. “And I just had to work with him and say, ‘I think you’re going to come off as a cautionary tale rather than a romantic tale.'”
Although Zanes doesn’t go into too much detail about Petty’s addiction in the interview, he does speculate why he started abusing drugs later in life (Petty, now 64, was in his 40s and 50s in the ’90s). “He’s a rock and roller,” Zanes said. “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.”
One of those people was Heartbreakers bassist Howie Epstein, who died in 2003 of drug-related complications. “The fact was, Petty’s drug use was partially obscured by Howie Epstein’s more dramatic decline,” Zanes writes in the biography, titled Petty: A Biography.
“I probably spent a month not getting out of bed, just waking up and going, ‘Oh, f—,'” Petty says in the biography. “The only thing that stopped the pain was drugs. But it was stupid. I’d never come up against anything that was bigger than me, something that I couldn’t control. But it starts running your life … I’m lucky I came through. Not everyone does.”