Music legend Tom Petty dies aged 66

US musician Tom Petty has died in California aged 66, says a statement issued on behalf of his family

Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers perform at the Verizon Wireless Amphitheatre on 14 August (Photo:Los Angeles Times)
Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers perform at the Verizon Wireless Amphitheatre on 14 August (Photo:Los Angeles Times)

The “Free Fallin” singer Tom Petty died on Monday, after being rushed to a Los Angeles hospital, according to long-time manager of Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers Tony Dimitriades. He confirmed Petty’s death on behalf of the singer’s family.

He was 66.

“He suffered cardiac arrest at his home in Malibu in the early hours of the morning and was taken to the UCLA Medical Centre, but could not be revived. He died peacefully at 8:40pm surrounded by family, his band mates and friends”, said Dimitriades in a statement.

Petty and his band, the Heartbreakers were a classic-radio staple for decades, with the group finishing a summer tour with three performances at the Hollywood Bowl just last week.

Petty and the band first came to fame in the 1970s and it was both as a solo artist, as well as with the band, that Petty had a string of hits under his belt, including “I Won’t Back Down” and “American Girl”.

Petty’s third album, “Damn the Torpedoes” broke he and his band through to the mainstream.

Born in Gainesville, Florida, Petty became mesmerized by rock and roll at the age of 11, when he met Elvis Presley on a movie set. He joined his first band, at the age of 14, called the Sundowners. Following a fall-out with the drummer, Petty quit and moved on to join a band called the Epics, which included Tom Leadon, a brother of Eagles guitarist Bernie Leadon.

“We realized Tom was the real musician of the band”, said fellow band member Rick Rucker, in 2006.

The Epics changed their name to Mudcrutch and Petty travelled to LA in search of a record deal. The group disbanded not long after, and a new one was formed, including Petty and two former Mudcrutch members formed in 1975. They eventually became known as Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers.

Petty went solo in 1989, before regrouping with the Heartbreakers just three years later.

He also found some fame in acting, having starred with Kevin Costner in the 1997 film “The Postman”. He also had a recurring role as the voice of Elroy “Lucky” Kleinschmidt in animated comedy series “King of the Hill”.

A 2015 biography on Petty documented a dark turn for the singer, and his overwhelming struggle with heroine addiction in 1997, following the collapse of his 20-year-long marriage and a failed album.

“Tried to go cold turkey and that wouldn’t work”, Petty said in the book.

With regards to music, it was always a love of his, as he said in 2007:

“Music, as far as I have seen in the world so far, is the only real magic that I know”, he said. “There is something really honest and clean and pure and it touches you in your heart”.

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