Tom Petty Dead at 66: Longtime Manager Confirms
Tom Petty, one of the most beloved songwriters of the rock era, has died at the age of 66.
Petty’s longtime manager Tony Dimitriades confirmed the news – which was prematurely reported earlier in the day – in a statement to the Los Angeles Times. “On behalf of the Tom Petty family, we are devastated to announce the untimely death of 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 8:40 p.m. PT surrounded by family, his bandmates and friends.”
Earlier today, TMZ reported that Petty “was found unconscious, not breathing and in full cardiac arrest” in his home in Malibu, Calif. He was placed on life support upon arriving at UCLA Santa Monica Hospital, but a decision was made to pull the support when no brain activity was registered.
CBS News initially declared that Petty had died on Monday afternoon, but then retracted that story, explaining that “an earlier LAPD report which confirmed the singer’s death, and which CBS reported, has since been clarified.”
Born Oct. 20, 1950 in Gainesville, Fla., Petty first became struck by rock n’ roll at the age of 10, when, through his uncle, he met Elvis Presley, who was filming Follow That Dream nearby. A few years later, he saw the Beatles on The Ed Sullivan Show and, like countless teenagers who were also watching, decided to form a band.
A series of local groups followed, but none of them took hold until Mudcrutch, which consisted of Petty on bass, singer Jim Lenehan, guitarists Tom Leadon and Mike Campbell and drummer Randall Marsh. After Lenehan and Leadon left and bassist Charlie Souza eventually came onboard, Petty assumed the lead vocal position and switched to guitar. They also picked up keyboardist Benmont Tench.
In 1974, they attracted the attention of Denny Cordell of Shelter Records, who brought them out to Los Angeles, and they recorded the single “Depot Street.” Its failure resulted in the band’s breakup, but Petty, Campbell and Tench remained together, and they picked up a new rhythm section — bassist Ron Blair and drummer Stan Lynch — and a new name that solidified who was in charge, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers.
Their first record, 1976’s Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, originally fell on deaf ears in the U.S. But in England, the energetic, back-to-basics approach found success, and they were initially considered to be part of the new wave, along with fellow traditionalists Elvis Costello and Nick Lowe which, in turn, helped them find their first audience in America. But on 1979’s Damn the Torpedoes, they struck platinum on the strength of hits like “Don’t Do Me Like That,” “Refugee” and “Here Comes My Girl.”
Over the course of a 40-year career, they produced a catalog deep enough to rival any other act in rock history. Either with the Heartbreakers or by himself, he placed 15 singles in the Top 40, including “The Waiting,” “Don’t Come Around Here No More,” “I Won’t Back Down” and “Free Fallin’.” Beginning with Damn the Torpedoes, his next 18 albums — including 11 with the Heartbreakers, three solo efforts, two with a reunited Mudcrutch and another two as a member of the supergroup the Traveling Wilburys — all reached the Top 20 of Billboard‘s album chart. He was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2002.
Tom Petty Through the Years: 1976-2017 Photos