On Monday, October 2nd, 2017, the world lost yet another musical icon. Tom Petty, at the age of 66, died of cardiac arrest at the UCLA Medical Center surrounded by his friends and family. It is another shocking loss to the music world following a string of celebrity musician deaths in recent years, including those of Prince, Charles Bradley, Walter Becker, Chris Cornell, and Gregg Allman, just to name a few.
Born in Gainesville, Florida in 1950, Petty’s passion for music began early, after meeting Elvis Presley at the age of 10. He credited both Elvis and The Beatles for being his earliest inspirations as a musician, and eventually started taking guitar lessons with Don Felder, widely known as the lead guitarist for the Eagles. Both Petty and Felder were young Gainesville residents with a desire to have their music heard, not knowing that each would become household names in rock music.
Tom Petty saw his first success as a musician with his band Mudcrutch. The band became very popular throughout Gainesville, but failed to receive recognition nationwide. After breaking up, Petty and keyboardist Benmont Tench started to go their separate ways musically, but eventually collaborated once again, eventually forming what became the starting lineup for The Heartbreakers.
Alongside Petty and Tench, fellow members Ron Blair and Stan Lynch formed what became a powerhouse of a band. They achieved most of their success through British audiences originally, but grew rapidly, breaking into the Top 40 and selling more than 2 million copies of their third album Damn the Torpedoes. Multiple albums, hits, tours, and band members later, The Heartbreakers were a name known all across the world.
Tom Petty’s drive as a creative did not end there, however. In 1988 he joined his idol George Harrison in his band The Traveling Wilburys. As if their two names didn’t make the band big enough, Bob Dylan, Roy Orbison, and Jeff Lynne comprised the group as well. During this time, Petty launched his solo career, releasing the hits “I Won’t Back Down,” “Free Fallin’,” and “Runnin’ Down a Dream.” Needless to say, his solo career was yet another period of success in Petty’s life.
Tom Petty would be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2001, following receiving a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 1999. He also received the Billboard Century Award in 2005, which is the organization’s highest honor. In 2006, Petty and the rest of The Heartbreakers were each gifted with a key to Gainesville, Florida; their hometown
A large majority of the albums Petty has worked on have been certified gold or platinum. His most recent piece with The Heartbreakers, Hypnotic Eye, was the band’s first number 1 album, following it up with a U.S. tour, doing so again in 2017 to celebrate their 40th anniversary as a band.
With everything Tom Petty has accomplished in his life, one can take solace knowing that he was happy in his final years as a musician. He became an inspiration to musicians all over the world through his work with The Heartbreakers, his solo career, and his iconic laid-back personality that was endearing to so many. While this is certainly a time for mourning one of rock music’s most successful musicians, Tom Petty’s life should also be celebrated.