Florida’s greatest rock icon and Heartbreakers frontman, Tom Petty passed away last week. According to Tony Dimitriades, Petty and The Heartbreakers’ manager, the musician was found unconscious in his house in Malibu and was rushed to a Los Angeles hospital where he was declared dead. The cause of death was cardiac arrest. Petty was 66-years-old.

“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. 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., Pacifc Time, surrounded by family, his bandmates and friends,” said Dimitriades in a statement.

Born on 20 October 1950 in Gainesville, Florida, Petty, as a child, was hugely influenced by Elvis Presley. At age 11, he even met Presley when the latter was filming for Follow That Dream in Florida. Presley’s influence was followed by inspiration from Beatles and Byrds. Familiarity with punk and southern rock, and his focus on the new wave movement in the initial days, allowed Petty the flexibility of moving to and fro between different eras of music.

He joined his first band, The Sundowners, at the age of 14 when he was in high school. After quitting the band post an argument with the drummer, Petty, on his 16th birthday, went on to join Epics, which later changed its name to Mudcrutch.

Later, when he travelled to Los Angeles in search of a record label for the rock band, a new group, including Petty and two former band members from Mudcrutch, formed in 1975—it was called, Tom Petty and The Heartbreakers.

Petty was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Museum in 2002 along with his band. He first received recognition in the 1970s with the launch of his third album with Heartbreakers, Damn The Torpedoes. The album featured some of his most popular songs, including “Refugee”, “Even the Losers” and “Louisiana Rain”.

Soon after that, Petty emerged as MTV’s favourite icon, which also drew him closer to young listeners. His 1985 gentle psychedelic track “Don’t Come Around Here No More” portrayed the singer as The Mad Hatter from Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, hosting a kooky tea party in Wonderland.  the song was a huge hit and said everything about his affinity for video as an art form, while his contemporary rock artistes believed in the contrary.

The album Hard Promises came out in 1981, and Long After Dark in 1982, both of which earned him a lot of acclaim. Then came Souther Accents in 1985, which was  a product of a lot of frustration owing to some never-ending recording sessions. Petty also broke many bones during the period, but the effort was rewarding: the song “Don’t Come Around Here No More” was a chartbusting single. Let Me Up (I’ve Had Enough) in 1987 was a commercial disappointment,  although it did receive a lot of critical acclaim.

Petty, along with Bob Dylan, George Harrison, Jeff Lynne and Roy Orbison, then formed The Traveling Wilburys, a British-American supergroup in 1988. The squad’s debut album, Traveling Wilburys Vol. 1, was a massive success and also won them many accolades, including the Grammy for Best Rock Performance by a Duo or Group.

In 1989, Petty collaborated with Lynne and came out with his first solo album, Full Moon Fever that featured classics like “Free Fallin’”, “I Won’t Back Down” and “Runnin’ Down a Dream”.

Petty along with Bob Dylan, George Harrison, Jeff Lynne and Roy Orbison formed The Traveling Wilburys, a British-American supergroup in 1988. The squad’s debut album Traveling Wilburys Vol. 1 was a massive success and also won them a Grammy. 
Another multimillion seller Wildflowers (in collaboration with Warner Bros.) came in 1994. However, at this time Petty went through a rough patch—a divorce with his first wife Jane Benyo in 1996. The broken marriage and depression forced the American songwriter into heroin addiction, for which he also received treatment. This dark phase has also been represented in another music album, Echo, out in 1999, which clocked decent sales and received a good response.

His 11th studio album with the Heartbreakers, The Last DJ, was an open attack on the greediness of the music industry. While Petty initially claimed that the album name and its title track were fictional, he later confessed that it was based on a Los Angeles-based DJ, named Jim Ladd. The album, however, fell flat and couldn’t leave a mark.

His third and final solo album, Highway Companion (2006), produced by Lynee again, showcased his prowess as a solo artiste, and featured tracks like “Saving Grace,” “Square One” and “Down South.” Riding on this successful streak, the band made a comeback with Mojo in 2010, and Hypnotic Eye in 2014.

 Petty’s flair for acting, evident in his video albums, was also seen in some of the movies he had worked in. Among his few films, the most notable was The Postman (1997). The film had Petty sharing the screen with Kevin Costner.

Having carved a niche in the entertainment industry with his body of work, and specially with his music—the smooth vocals, guitar riffs and distilled lyrics—the three-time Grammy winner Tom Petty believed in the power of music until his
dying day.


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