Who was Tom Petty?
Tom Petty was a famous singer-songwriter best known as the frontman of the popular band ‘Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers’. He became interested in music at the age of ten after a meeting with the legendary singer Elvis. He began his career with a group called the Mudcrutch. After the group’s disbandment, he proceeded to form the band which would eventually become known as ‘Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers’. Their self-titled debut album was a success, becoming a hit in the UK, and later in the US as well. The band enjoyed continued success in the coming years. Petty also flourished as a solo artist and won several awards over the course of his career. With time, he became one of the world’s bestselling artists and was inducted into the ‘Rock and Roll Hall of Fame’. He was also an occasional actor, having made his debut in the film ‘FM’. He played an important role in the epic adventure film ‘The Postman’ as well, which unfortunately was a commercial and critical disaster. He passed away in 2017 after suffering a cardiac arrest following an accidental prescription drug overdose.
Childhood & Early Life
Tom Petty was born on October 20, 1950 in Gainesville, Florida, in the US. He was the oldest son of Earl and Kitty Petty, and had one younger brother, Bruce. He had a bitter relationship with his father who was known to be physically and verbally abusive.
From an early age, he sought refuge in music and learned to play the guitar. During his high school years, he joined a local band named the Epics, where he played bass. He dropped out of school at the age of seventeen after forming a new band named Mudcrutch. He became the group’s frontman and also the primary songwriter. Soon they gained a strong local following.
In the 1970s, the band did gain some popularity in Gainesville, but their recordings went unnoticed by the mainstream audience. Therefore, the band split up after they released only one single titled ‘Depot Street’.
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Career in Music
Tom Petty moved to Los Angeles and teamed up with Benmont Tench, Ron Blair, and Stan Lynch to form the first lineup of the band ‘Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers’. They released their self-titled album in November 1976 which became a hit in the UK, and eventually, the US. It reached the 24th position on the UK albums chart and the 55th on the US Charts. The song ‘American Girl’ from the album became one of their signature songs.
Their next album ‘You’re Gonna Get It’ was released in 1978 and became an average success. Their third album ‘Damn the Torpedoes’ was one of the band’s most successful albums. It was accredited 2x platinum in the US and 3x platinum in Canada.
The band continued to enjoy success with their next albums including ‘Hard Promises’ (1981), ‘Long After Dark’ (1982), ‘Southern Accents’ (1985) and ‘Let Me Up’ (1987). In 1986, they also embarked on a tour with Bob Dylan, performing on their own and also serving as Dylan’s backup band.
Tom Petty made his solo debut in 1989 with the album named ‘Full Moon Fever’. It was a critical and commercial success, peaking at the 3rd position on the US Billboard 200. Despite his solo success, he did not leave his band. In 1991, they released their eighth album ‘Into the Great Wide Open’, which was a critical and commercial success. In 1996, they released their ninth album ‘Songs and Music from the Motion Picture "She's the One."’
His second solo album ‘Wildflowers’ also became a commercial success. It was met with positive reviews as well. Over the next two decades, he released four other albums with his band, which included ‘Echo’ (1999), ‘The Last DJ’ (2002), and ‘Mojo’ (2010) and ‘Hypnotic Eyes’ (2014). He also released a solo album named ‘Highway Companion’ in 2006. It peaked at the 4th position on the Billboard 200 chart and was praised by the critics.
Tom Petty made his acting debut with a role in the 1978 film ‘FM’. He next appeared in the 1987 film ‘Made in Heaven’ in an unaccredited role. He also appeared in several episodes of the American sitcom ‘Its’ Garry Sandlings’ Show’. He played a neighbor of the lead titular character.
He was seen in the 1997 film ‘The Postman’ where he played an important role.The film was a disaster: it made less than $20 million on a $80 million budget and received negative reviews. The critics opined that it was one of the worst films of the year.
He also had a voice role in the famed animated sitcom ‘The Simpsons’ in one episode, and in a few episodes of another popular sitcom ‘King of the Hill’.
One of Tom Petty’s important works was ‘Damn the Torpedoes,’ his band’s third album. Released on the eve of his 29th birthday, the album became a huge success commercially, selling more than three million copies in the USA. With singles such as ‘Refugee’ ‘Here Comes My Girl’ and ‘Even the Losers’, the album appeared in Rolling Stone magazine’s list of the 500 greatest albums of all time in 2003.
‘Full Moon Fever’ was the debut solo album by Tom Petty. The album became a commercial success and was certified 5x platinum in the US. It peaked at the 3rdposition on the US Billboard 200 and charted in several other countries as well, including Sweden, Norway, and the UK. It contained singles, such as ‘I Won’t Back Down’, ‘A Face in the Crowd’ and ‘Runnin’ Down a Dream’.
Tom Petty was married to Jane Benyo from 1974 to 1996. They had two daughters, Adria, who became a director, and AnnaKim, who became an artist. He later disclosed that his struggle with heroin addiction ended his marriage.
He later became a practitioner of Transcendental Meditation.
He tied the knot with Dana York on June 3, 2001. Through this marriage he became a stepfather to Dana’s son from a previous relationship.
He passed away on 2nd October 2017 following a massive cardiac arrest caused by an accidental overdose of prescription drugs. His funeral took place at the Westwood Village Memorial Park Cemetery on 16th October.