“Music, as far as I have seen in the world so far, is the only real magic that I know.” —Tom Petty
It’s true and heartbreaking—at age 66, Tom Petty, lead of Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers has passed away.
His family announced Monday night that the singer was found unconscious in his home, suffering from cardiac arrest. He was rushed to the UCLA Medical Center, where he later died surrounded by his family, bandmates and friends.
Petty’s career was massively successful. The band made their debut in 1976 and Petty had multiple hit solo records. He played with epic headliners such as Bob Dylan, George Harrison, and Stevie Nicks, rocked fans at the Super Bowl halftime show in 2008, and was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 2002.
Bob Dylan expressed his shock at Petty’s death. “It’s shocking, crushing news. I thought the world of Tom. He was a great performer, full of the light, a friend, and I’ll never forget him.”
Credit Paul Natkin/WireImage, Getty Images
Born on October 20, 1950, Tom Petty found solace in music early on, meeting Elvis Presley at age 11, which sparked his affair with rock and roll. “I was really young and impressionable. Elvis really did look … sort of not real, as if he were glowing. He was astounding, even spiritual.” His meeting with the King of Rock and Roll, combined with a viewing of The Beatles’ 1964 appearance on “The Ed Sullivan Show,” propelled him full force into his music.
His band’s popularity had a slow ramp up but finally exploded with the release of “Damn The Torpedoes”, selling more than 3 million copies. The band made over a dozen albums and Petty’s solo albums were just as successful.
Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, 1977
By the end of the 1990’s, Petty had struggled with and overcome heroin addiction, but he never stopped making music. Even the last Heartbreaker album, “Hypnotic Eye”, released in 2014, went to the number one spot on the Billboard album chart—his fans loyalty was unfaltering. He toured with the Heartbreakers well into 2017.
Petty was thankful that his career had been so long and that while older fans stayed true, younger fans were also coming to his concerts. He said to Rolling Stone in 2013, “I like to play these festivals. We’re one of those old, lucky bands. Young people come to see us. It makes a difference.”
In the end, Petty was satisfied with his legacy. He told Esquire, “As you’re coming up, you’re recognized song for song or album for album. 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. And that’s a wonderful feeling. It’s all an artist can ask.”