Confirmed by Tony Dimitriades, longtime manager of Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers, the dynamic and iconoclastic frontman who led the band the Heartbreakers, died Monday at age 66.
On Sunday, Petty was found unconscious, not breathing and in full cardiac arrest at his Malibu home, according to TMZ, where he was rushed to the hospital and placed on life support. EMTs were able to find a pulse when they found him, but TMZ reported that the hospital found no brain activity when he arrived. A decision was made to pull life support.
Thomas Earl Petty was born in Gainesville, Florida, the son of an insurance salesman, on October 20th, 1950. His father beat him and he didn’t perform well in school, according to The New York Times, but he found solace in music. In 1961, he met Elvis Presley, who was shooting a film in Ocala, Florida, and it became a “life-altering moment” for the young Petty. Soon after, he got his first guitar as a preteen and joined his first band in the mid-Sixties. He quit high school at age 17 to join the southern-rock group Mudcrutch, which was taking off at the time. The group’s lineup featured guitarist Mike Campbell and keyboardist Benmont Tench, two musicians Petty would collaborate with for much of the next five decades.
Three years ago, Petty and the Heartbreakers reached a shocking milestone when their new LP, Hypnotic Eye, became their first Number 1 album. They supported it with a U.S. tour and went back on the road in 2017 to celebrate their 40th anniversary. “I’m thinking it may be the last trip around the country,” Petty told Rolling Stone shortly before it began. “It’s very likely we’ll keep playing, but will we take on 50 shows in one tour? I don’t think so. I’d be lying if I didn’t say I was thinking this might be the last big one. We’re all on the backside of our sixties. I have a granddaughter now I’d like to see as much as I can. I don’t want to spend my life on the road.”
After years of swimming upstream, Petty was at ease with his legacy in the later years of his life. “As you’re coming up, you’re recognized song for song or album for album,” he told Esquire in 2006. “What’s changed these days is that the man who approaches me on the street is more or less thanking me for a body of work – the soundtrack to his life, as a lot of them say.
Tom Petty’s official website is here.