Rock legend Tom Petty dies at 66
Tom Petty, Rock and Roll Hall of Famer and lead singer of Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, died on Monday at age 66.
Petty’s longtime manager confirmed the singer’s death to EW. “On behalf of the Tom Petty family we are devastated to announce the untimely death of our father, husband, brother, leader, and friend Tom Petty. He suffered cardiac arrest at his home in Malibu in the early hours of this morning and was taken to UCLA Medical Center but could not be revived. He died peacefully at 8:40 p.m. PT surrounded by family, his bandmates, and friends.”
The news of Petty’s death capped a whirlwind day after his hospitalization following cardiac arrest was first reported by TMZ. Petty was reported dead by CBS News on Monday afternoon, which cited Los Angeles Police Department sources. But the LAPD soon walked back those claims, writing on Twitter the department “has no information about the passing of singer Tom Petty. Initial information was inadvertently provided to some media sources. However, the LAPD has no investigative role in this matter. We apologize for any inconvenience in this reporting.”
In a statement, CBS News cited reporting officially obtained by the LAPD for its claim about Petty’s death. (Entertainment Weekly along with major outlets such as Rolling Stone, PEOPLE, HuffPost, Variety and numerous other sites posted that Petty had died based on the CBS reporting and its supposed confirmation.)
Petty was hospitalized at UCLA Santa Monica Hospital, where he was put on life support. Later, the decision was reportedly made to remove him from life support after it was found that he was lacking brain activity.
Born October 20, 1950, in Gainesville, Florida, Petty arrived just late enough to derive significant influence from rock’s first wave. Petty became interested in the genre when he met Elvis Presley at age ten; he said he knew he wanted to form a band when he saw the Beatles on The Ed Sullivan Show in 1964. As a Gainesville teen, Petty even took lessons from future Eagles guitarist Don Felder.
Petty formed his first band, Mudcrutch, in Gainesville at the age of 20. The group became regionally popular but floundered after releasing their sole single, “Depot Street.” (Mudcrutch would release two studio albums in the 21st century, including 2016’s 2, the final album Petty released with any act.) After the band dissolved in 1975, Petty recruited fellow Mudcrutchers Mike Campbell and Benmont Tench, along with Ron Blair and Stan Lynch to form his most famed group, the Heartbreakers.
Success arrived swiftly for Petty and the Heartbreakers. After releasing their eponymous debut in 1976 and its follow-up, 1978’s You’re Gonna Git It!, the group hit a commercial groove: Their next four albums, spanning 1979’s Damn the Torpedoes to 1985’s Southern Accents, all charted in the top ten of Billboard’s albums chart. The popular albums yielded iconic singles including “Don’t Do Me Like That,” “Refugee,” “The Waiting,” “You Got Lucky,” and “Don’t Come Around Here No More,” all of which cracked the top 20 on the Hot 100.
By the mid-’80s, Petty had ascended into rock’s upper echelon, touring and collaborating with the likes of Bob Dylan and the Grateful Dead. His highest-profile collaboration as the ’80s rolled into the ’90s, when Petty joined with Dylan, George Harrison, Roy Orbison, and Electric Light Orchestra’s Jeff Lynne to form the Traveling Wilburys. The group released two popular albums in 1988 and 1990, but its greatest product may have been uniting Petty and Lynne.
Working with Lynne, Petty hit a mid-career creative peak — and released some of his most beloved and successful tunes. He wrote his solo debut, 1989’s Full Moon Fever, in conjunction with Lynne. It hit No. 3 on the album’s chart and spawned three seismically popular singles: “I Won’t Back Down,” “Runnin’ Down a Dream,” and the most famous of his singles, “Free Fallin.'”
Like Full Moon Fever, Petty enlisted multiple Heartbreakers, notably guitarist Mike Campbell, for his second solo album, 1994’s Wildflowers. Rick Rubin (Beastie Boys, Red Hot Chili Peppers) produced the successful record, which included his hit “You Don’t Know How It Feels.”
The rocker privately struggled with heroin addiction in the ’90s, a 2015 biography revealed. But he remained active: Between 1987 and 2002, the Heartbreakers released another five albums at a consistent clip. By the turn of the century, Petty had become one of the genre’s most revered legacy acts, earning a Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction, in 2002, headlining major festivals like Bonnaroo, in 2006, and performing at the halftime show of Super Bowl XLII in 2008. This summer, he staged a sprawling 40th anniversary tour — but alluded to Rolling Stone that the tour, which ended up being his last, would likely be his “last big one.”
This post has been updated.