Classic heartland rocker was one of the bestselling musicians of all time.
Tom Petty, American rock star beloved by millions for his authentic heartland rock and roll, died Monday, Oct. 2, 2017, at the age of 66.
His longtime manager Tony Dimitriades issued a statement Monday evening: “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. PST surrounded by family, his bandmates, and friends.”
“It’s shocking, crushing news,” legendary songwriter Bob Dylan, a close Petty friend and colleague, told Rolling Stone magazine. “I thought the world of Tom. He was great performer, full of the light, a friend, and I’ll never forget him.”
Petty, one of the top-selling musicians of all time, has sold more than 80 million records in his career as a solo artist, with his band the Heartbreakers, and with the supergroup the Traveling Wilburys. His success spanned decades, from 1977’s “American Girl” to 1989’s “Free Fallin’” to 1995’s “You Wreck Me” and beyond. The list of Petty’s popular and beloved songs goes on and on, thanks to a 40-year career in which he released upwards of 30 albums.
Petty’s early music, beginning with his 1976 album “Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers” and its lead singles “Breakdown” and “American Girl,” caught on more quickly in the U.K. than in the U.S. Then the band hits its stride with the 1979 album “Damn the Torpedoes,” reaching a broad American audience with hits including “Don’t Do Me Like That”—Petty’s first single to crack the Billboard Hot 100’s Top Ten—and “Refugee.”
Petty and the Heartbreakers became darlings of the MTV video age with creative, sprawling videos including 1985’s “Don’t Come Around Here No More”—a surreal, “Alice in Wonderland”-themed offering—and 1994’s “Mary Jane’s Last Dance,” a creepy love story starring Kim Basinger as the corpse beloved by Petty’s character. Both videos won MTV Video Music Awards, were frequently played staples of the station’s programming, and are still cited among the best music videos of all time.
Petty would play and record with the Heartbreakers for much of his career, releasing albums with them as recently as 2014’s “Hypnotic Eye.” While the band was an indelible part of his musical persona, representing much of his massive creative output, some of his most memorable music also came during solo outings and his time with the Traveling Wilburys.
Petty first stepped away from the Heartbreakers to record 1988’s “The Traveling Wilburys Vol. 1” alongside George Harrison, Roy Orbison, Bob Dylan, and Jeff Lynne. The supergroup was formed over dinner and the album recorded casually in Dylan’s home studio, and it became a triple-platinum hit, yielding the affable singles “Handle With Care” and “End of the Line.” The Traveling Wilburys would repeat the collaboration—minus Orbison, who died shortly after the first album was released—in 1990 with “Traveling Wilburys Vol. 3.”
In between Wilburys albums, Petty took his first solo turn, releasing the album “Full Moon Fever” in 1989 and achieving a commercial peak with singles including “Free Fallin’,” “I Won’t Back Down,” and “Runnin’ Down a Dream.” Though it was officially a solo album, Petty had help in creating “Full Moon Fever” from a number of his friends, including several of the Heartbreakers as well as most of the Traveling Wilburys. He repeated his solo success with 1994’s “Wildflowers,” named by Rolling Stone as the 12th best album of the 1990s.
Petty enjoyed a minor acting career as well, peaking with his performance as the mayor of Bridge City in Kevin Costner’s 1997 film “The Postman.” He also appeared with Garry Shandling in “It’s Garry Shandling’s Show” and “The Larry Sanders Show,” as well as providing voices in animated shows including “The Simpsons” and “King of the Hill.”
Frequently nominated for Grammy Awards, Petty first won with the Traveling Wilburys, who were named “Best Rock Vocal Performance by a Duo or Group” in 1990. He would win two more Grammys, in 1996 and 2009, as well as lifetime achievement nods from the Radio Music Awards in 2003 and the Billboard Music Awards in 2005. He was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2002.
Born Oct. 20, 1950 in Gainesville, Florida, Petty built his career in Florida but later relocated to California. He was twice married, first to Jane Benyo, from 1974 to 1996. The couple had two daughters, Adria and AnnaKim Violette, both of whom survive him. In 2001, Petty married Dana York, who also survives him.
As news broke Monday that Petty had been hospitalized and then removed from life support, numerous fellow rockers spoke out in tribute.
John Mayer: “I loved Tom Petty and I covered his songs because I wanted know what it felt like to fly. ‘You belong somewhere you feel free.’”
Neko Case: “At a Tom Petty show in Austin, walking toward it, a full 3/4 of a mile to the stage, every single person living was singing every word. That’s the kinda powerful love you don’t see every day, but the kind we all long for when we think about our society and togetherness.”
Nikki Sixx: “Tom Petty. One of the greatest songwriters of our generation. Thank you for ALL the music. Prayers to your family & band members.”
We invite you to share condolences for Tom Petty in our Guest Book.