With more than 80 million records sold worldwide, three Grammy Awards, and a gold star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame… Tom Petty is and was unequivocally an American rock icon. According to TMZ, the legendary musician was found unconscious in his Malibu home, on Sunday night, and was rushed to the UCLA Santa Monica hospital. He was not breathing and in full cardiac arrest.
While the cause of the heart attack is still unknown, it has since been confirmed that Petty died peacefully at 66. Confusion sprouted following an initial statement from LAPD about the musician’s death, stating that they were not in a position to confirm it, and that “initial information was inadvertently provided to some media sources.” According to published reports, the singer had also been taken off life support and was instructed: “Do Not Resuscitate.”
UPDATE: Tragically, Petty did not make it through the night. According to a Facebook update from Tom Petty and The Heartbreakers longtime manager Tony Dimitriades, Petty died peacefully at 8:40 p.m. PST surrounded by family, his bandmates, and friends.
“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,” Dimitriades said. “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.”
In light of this tragic news, Salute Magazine wanted to take a moment to reflect on the musicians more than 40-year career in rock and roll.
Petty grew up Gainesville, Florida, and was just a child when he first discovered rock and roll music. Listening to records from artists like Elvis Presley and The Beatles was what eventually led him to pick up the guitar. One of his guitar teachers, Don Felder, a fellow Gainesville native and future member of The Eagles, recalled in a 2008 interview with Gibson Guitars, how he had tried to help Petty while he was playing bass in a band called, The Rucker Brothers.
It was not long after that when Petty decided to start his own band, originally called the Epics, which eventually changed its name to Mudcrutch. Unnoticed by mainstream audiences at the time, the band soon split up… until Petty noticed that keyboardist Benmont Tench and guitarist Mike Campbell had started their own group and decided to team up. With the addition of bassist Ron Blair and drummer Stan Lynch, the group would become known as Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers.
Although their eponymous debut album did not gain immediate attention in the U.S., the hit single, “Breakdown” was re-released in 1977 and cracked the Top 40 in 1978. The album also features the FM radio staple, “American Girl.”
The band went on to put out hit-after-hit. In total, Petty released 13 full-length studio albums with The Heartbreakers. He also recorded three solo albums; two albums with Mudcrutch; and two albums with George Harrison‘s rock supergroup, The Traveling Wilburys—whose roster also included Bob Dylan, Roy Orbison, and Jeff Lynne of Electric Light Orchestra.
Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers were formally inducted into the annals of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2002. In 2014, the band released its first album to make it to a no. 1 spot on the charts, Hypnotic Eye. And in March 2016, Petty was inducted into the Songwriter’s Hall of Fame, along with Marvin Gaye (posthumous), Elvis Costello, Nile Rodgers and Bernard Edwards (posthumous).
Petty married his first wife, Jane Benyo in 1974 and had two daughters, Adria and AnnaKim; He later remarried to his second wife, Dana York Epperson in 2001 and has a stepson, Dylan.
Aside from music, Petty also frequently appeared in film and television. His first on-screen appearance took place in 1978, with a cameo in the movie, FM. He also played the mayor of Bridge City in the 1997 Kevin Costner movie, The Postman, and has appeared on several episodes of The Larry Sanders Show, The Simpsons, King of the Hill, and Lil Bush.
Petty performed his last show on Monday, Sept. 25th at the Hollywood Bowl, to conclude their 40th-anniversary tour, which included 53 shows in 24 states across the country.
In memory of Tom Petty, we’ve put together 21 tracks to celebrate the artist’s legacy.
STREAM: SALUTE TO TOM PETTY