R.I.P. Heartland rock icon Tom Petty, gone at 66
(UPDATE, 12:13 a.m. — Los Angeles Times confirmed Petty has passed away in a statement from publicist Carla Sacks: “On behalf of the Tom Petty family, we are devastated to announce the untimely death of 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.— Tony Dimitriades, longtime manager of Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers on behalf of the family.” Dimitriades also confirmed Petty’s death with the New York Times.)
(UPDATE, 5:40 p.m. — Rolling Stone has clarified that Petty was rushed to the hospital and taken off life support following cardiac arrest; the initial report of his death, which came from CBS News, has been redacted, as it was based on a confirmation from the Los Angeles Police Department, which has since clarified that it has no investigative role in the matter. According to TMZ, where initial reports appeared this afternoon, “Monday morning a chaplain was called to Tom’s hospital room. … The singer is not expected to live throughout the day, but he’s still clinging to life.”)
American rocker Tom Petty — whose four-decade career involves band-leading, collaborating, solo excursions, production, and some of the most memorable, unifying songs in recent memory — passed away tonight following a cardiac arrest at his Malibu, California home. He was 66 years old.
Born in Gainesville, Florida, in 1950, Petty — like many of his generation — was inspired to pursue rock and roll himself after seeing The Beatles perform on The Ed Sullivan Show in 1964, according to an interview for NPR’s Fresh Air. His first excursion into making his own music came at age 17, when he dropped out of high school to form the band Mudcrutch with friends Tom Leadon, Randall Marsh, Mike Campbell and Benmont Tench. The group gained acclaim for its song “Depot Street,” but never reached mainstream success. For Petty, that would arrive six years later with his band The Heartbreakers — which featured Campbell and Tench and part of its original lineup.
With the Heatrbreakers, Petty penned a remarkable string of rock radio hits — “Breakdown,” “Don’t Do Me Like That,” “American Girl,” “Refugee,” “Even The Losers,” “The Waiting” — fusing jagged power pop riffs with country-tinged heartland flourishes and memorable hooks undeniably indebted to his formative influences: John, Paul, George and Ringo. He collaborated with one of his heroes, George Harrison, in 1985 — along with Bob Dylan and Roy Orbison — in The Traveling Wilburys.
His solo debut came in 1989 with the unstoppable Full Moon Fever — a stunning set that included the immortal “Free Fallin,” “Yer So Bad,” “I Won’t Back Down” and more. This was the record that exposed Petty’s wry wit, observational lyrics and endless hooks to a new generation of fans, and his work continued across the 90s and aughts as a solo artist and with the Heartbreakers, with subsequent hits like the mellow meditation “You Don’t Know How It Feels” and the intensely infectious, inescapable fever dream jammer “Mary Jane’s Last Dance.” The latter was a new song included on his 1993 Greatest Hits collection, and it stands up strongly alongside all the other 17 songs on the collection. It also features a hypnotic music video — an arena in which Petty excelled, from the surreal “Don’t Come Around Here No More” to the cartoonish “Runnin’ Down a Dream” — and you can watch it below.
Petty toured and recorded for the next two decades, dabbled in acting, appearing onscreen in The Postman and lending his voice to animated series The Simpsons and King of the Hill. Last year, he reunited Mudcrutch for a tour that stopped at The Fillmore Philadelphia — listen to their interview on the World Cafe.
Below, re-live some Philly memories with Petty: a 1985 performance of “Refugee” at JFK Stadium from Live Aid; a back-in-the-day photo of Petty and the Heartbreakers with XPN Midday host Helen Leicht, taken during her time at WIOQ; and a series of videos of Petty’s final Philadelphia appearance, July 1st of this year at the Wells Fargo Center. You can revisit a review of that show here, as well as photos and a review of his 2014 Philly show here.
You can also read Petty’s final interview in the Los Angeles Times here.