His lyrics spoke to the average person. I Won’t Back Down. How many times has a person felt that in their life? You Don’t Know How It Feels. How many a youth, or adult, has had that feeling? How many women have been on the receiving end of the man’s decisions in Free Fallin’? Stop Draggin’ My Heart Around, his collaboration with Stevie Nicks, now everyone has felt that at least once in their life. How many people are currently Runnin’ Down A Dream? Tom Petty entered our psyche at the deepest level with his honest lyrics and earthy voice. That voice will live on in iTunes, your CD, on vinyl or cassette. That’s how long Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers have been hanging around in our ears. Now the time has come for us as a human race to have a wake and bid this music iconoclast adieu.
On October 2, amidst a day of news reports falsely claiming this man’s early and unexpected demise, then retracting the stories, then reposting them once again, Thomas Earl Petty was lying in a hospital bed at a UCLA Medical Center hanging by a thread. Thankfully the callousness of these false claims couldn’t be heard in his ears. The following statement was released late that day by Carla Sacks, his personal publicist, regarding Petty’s death.
“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 8:40pm PT surrounded by family, his bandmates and friends,” said Tony Dimitriades, longtime manager of Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers, on behalf of the family.
Today, The Petty family released the cause of Tom Petty’s death on TomPetty.com after sitting with the LA County Medical Examiner. This comes after a four month long investigation into this music icon’s cause of death. The family states Tom Petty died of an accidental drug overdose from taking a variety of medications. Petty had a number of medical problems including “emphysema, knee problems and most significantly a fractured hip,” stated the family. Before touring 53 dates with his bandmates on their celebratory tour, Petty suffered major hip problems, the family informed the public. Despite this painful injury, he insisted on touring. This worsened the injury, according to the family’s statement. The day he died he was informed his hip had graduated to a full break, stated his family, and this was the cause of Petty’s overuse of the pain medication. Petty had been prescribed Fentanyl patches, which the LA County coroner feels confident was an unfortunate accident. This the family states will likely lead to a further and legitimate discussion on the opioid crisis. The Petty family continues to ask for privacy during their time of mourning.
Petty’s career spans decades. His first band was in the 70’s. It was called Mudcrutch. He dropped out of high school in favor of a music career. Mudcrutch never got to cut that album they wanted at that time. Tom Petty, Mike Campbell and Benmont Tench formed Mudcrutch in their home state of Florida. They signed with Shelter Records out of Tulsa, Oklahoma. Mudcrutch recorded a few singles but ultimately broke up. A year later, they came together again in Los Angeles with bassist Ron Blair and drummer Stan Lynch to form the band we’ve all come to know and love, Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers. Most know Petty from this band, or possibly from the collaborative effort The Travelling Wilburys, a band that included the dream team George Harrison, Bob Dylan, Roy Orbison, Jeff Lynne and Petty.
Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers released their self-titled debut album in 1976. That band rocked the music world. After Tom Petty And The Heartbreakers (1976), the band released You’re Gonna Get It! (1978) and Damn the Torpedoes (1979). They later made a big name for the band in sales and that thing you can’t name that stays in your ears after you hear a song. That’s the part that enters your psyche and stays there. This is when the band really gained staying power on the charts and in sales. Damn The Torpedoes is the album with the tracks Refugee, Even the Losers, Don’t Do Me Like That and Here Comes My Girl, just a sampling of the songs from the charts of the day. Billboard reports Petty as a solo artist and with his bandmates The Heartbreakers were on the charts with more than two dozens songs. Petty as a solo artist or with his bandmates charted 12 top 10 albums on the Billboard 200. The band finally reached number one on the charts with the final album Hypnotic Eye released July 29, 2014. Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers have sold more than 60 million records. If you thought Mudcrutch was dead, mull that over once more. That band was brought back in 2007 releasing their self-titled album in 2008. Mudcrutch added two more top 10’s on the charts, including a number 10 slot with the title 2. The Traveling Wilburys also charted a couple hits. These were original full-lengths, the biggest being the 1988 No. 3 The Traveling Wilburys (Vol. 1).
Petty’s decorated career led him to many accolades. He has a popular Sirius/XM radio show, Tom Petty’s Buried Treasure, still playing now. The band has been on tour, most recently in 2017 at the Hollywood Bowl, celebrating the band’s 40th anniversary of their debut album. Between The Heartbreakers and his solo work, Petty has won two Grammy awards and been honored with lifetime achievement awards, Billboard’s Century Award, MTV’s Video Van-guard Award and induction into the Rock And Roll Hall of Fame.
When Tom Petty And The Heartbreakers were inducted into the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame in 2002, the Rock Hall’s headline was about Petty’s iconoclastic nature. The Rock Hall said, “Tom Petty made us all believe by singing about ordinary experience in an extraordinary way. Classic, yet innovative. Average Joes, yet heroes. Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers are the quintessential American individualists. They sang about ordinary struggles in an extraordinary way. From immortalizing the common man in their hit singles to preventing record execs from raising prices, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers were the champions of the average citizen.”
So true. So true.
Tom Petty was 66 years old. Yet he will live forever in song and our ears.
Thomas Earl Petty: October 20, 1950 - October 2, 2017.
Tom Petty And The Heartbreakers: Jefferson Jericho Blues