Tom Petty, ‘distinctively American’ rocker, dies at 66

Tom Petty performs during halftime at Super Bowl XLII at the University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale, Arizona, February 2, 2008. AFP / Timothy A. CLARY

LOS ANGELES: Tom Petty, whose vibrant guitar riffs, raw, nasal vocals and slick lyrics graced such hits as “Refugee,” and “Free Fallin,’” has died following a heart attack at 66. Petty suffered cardiac arrest and was found unconscious at his Malibu home early Monday morning and could not be revived, manager Tony Dimitriades said in a statement. He died peacefully at 03:40 GMT Tuesday, surrounded by family, bandmates and friends.

Best-known for his roots-infused rock, Petty carved a career as a solo artist as well as with The Heartbreakers and The Traveling Wilburys. Petty and The Heartbreakers embarked on a 40th anniversary tour of the U.S. this year, playing three dates in late September at Los Angeles’ Hollywood Bowl. The band was scheduled to perform two dates in New York in November.

Formed in the mid-’70s, The Heartbreakers took off with 1979’s “Damn the Torpedoes.” He and the band were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2002.

“Music, as far as I have seen in the world so far, is the only real magic that I know,” Petty said during a CNN interview. “There is something really honest and clean and pure and it touches you in your heart.”

In the 1980s Petty co-founded The Traveling Wilburys with Bob Dylan, Roy Orbison, George Harrison and Jeff Lynne.

Dylan called his death “shocking, crushing news” in a statement to Rolling Stone magazine. He was “a great performer, full of the light, a friend, and I’ll never forget him.”

Born in Florida on Oct. 20, 1950, Petty had a rough childhood and did not do well in school, according to The New York Times.

His uncle introduced him to Elvis Presley in 1960 and he got his first guitar in 1962. Influenced by the Beatles, he switched to electric guitar and in the mid-’60s joined his first band, the Sundowners.

Petty dropped out of high school when he was 17 and joined Mudcrutch, moving to Los Angeles with the band in 1970. He and his bandmates formed Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers in 1976.

The band culled “the best parts of the British Invasion, American garage rock, and Dylanesque singer/songwriters to create a distinctively American hybrid that recalled the past without being indebted to it,” according to

“Petty: The Biography,” 2015, revealed the rocker’s heroin addiction in the 1990s.

Author Warren Zanes said in a Washington Post interview that Petty had succumbed to the drug because he “had ... 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. He 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,” he said at the time, “medically sick. You’re not just suddenly going out of your mind.”

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on October 05, 2017, on page 16.




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