Tom Petty Dead at 66
Tom Petty has died at the age of 66, CBS reports. Officials confirm they responded to an emergency call at his California residence on Sunday (Oct. 1) and rushed the rock legend to UCLA Santa Monica Hospital, where he reportedly passed away on Monday (Oct. 2).
Petty was born in Gainesville, FL, on Oct. 20, 1950. Despite his easy-going, affable persona, Petty endured a rough childhood, living in poverty with an alcoholic, abusive father and a mother who was in fear of her husband. But a childhood handshake with Elvis Presley in the ’50s piqued his interest in rock n’ roll, and at the age of 17, inspired by the Beatles and the Byrds, Petty dropped out of high school to play rock with his band Mudcrutch. Mudcrutch would break up before Petty found massive global success as the frontman for the Heartbreakers in the mid ’70s (Mudcrutch reformed in 2007 and released two studio albums: 2008’s self-titled and 2016’s 2, his final studio effort).
Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers’ self-titled album dropped in 1976, and although it would eventually go Gold and produce two classic rock radio staples with the singles “Breakdown” and “American Girl,” the album (and those singles) weren’t big hits upon initial release (“Breakdown” would later peak at No. 40 on the Billboard Hot 100 after being re-released). 1978’s You’re Gonna Get It! fared slightly better commercially, but it was the band’s third album, 1979’s Damn the Torpedoes!, that found Petty breakthrough to massive success. The No. 2-peaking, triple Platinum album produced two top 20 hits with “Refugee” and “Don’t Do Me Like That.” In 1981, he teamed with Stevie Nicks for the hit duet “Stop Draggin’ My Heart Around.”
While new wave and synth-pop took hold in the ’80s, Petty stuck to his no-frills heartland rock style while still appealing to a young fan base. Platinum albums, massive tours and hit singles continued, and he began to branch out creatively from the Hearbreakers as the decade came to a closer.
After joining George Harrison, Bob Dylan, Roy Orbison and Jeff Lynne in the supergroup-to-end-all-supergroups Traveling Wilburys – whose 1988 debut hit No. 3 on the Billboard 200 – Petty continued to work with Lynne on his solo debut, 1989’s Full Moon Fever. It would prove to be his most blockbuster release sinceDamn the Torpedoes! a decade earlier, going five-times Platinum, hitting No. 3 on the Billboard 200 and producing arguable his best-known song, the inescapable “Free Fallin’,” a No. 7 Hot 100 hit. Within the space of two years, Petty followed his runaway hit solo LP with another Traveling Wilburys album as well as a new Heartbreakers album. Barely slowing his pace throughout the next three decades, Petty continued releasing albums, whether with the Heartbreakers, solo or Mudcrutch.
“We ain’t no punk band, we ain’t folk rock, jazz rock, or any of that bullshit. Just rock, and we don’t put no other name on it than that. We’d be stupid if we did,” he told Rolling Stone in the ’70s.