Tom Petty

On this date in 1950, musician Thomas Earl Petty was born in Gainesville, Fla. Petty described his relationship with his father, an insurance salesman, as tumultuous, but he was close to his mother and his brother Bruce. When he saw the Beatles perform on “The Ed Sullivan Show” in 1964, he became focused on making his way as a musician. He dropped out of high school at 17 to tour with one of his early bands, Mudcrutch. The band moved to Los Angeles to pursue a record deal, but broke up and became known as Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers in 1975.

In 1976 they released their first album, which included the hit singles “American Girl” and “Break Down.” They continued to release a string of successful albums throughout the 1970s and ’80s. In 1988 Petty joined with George Harrison, Roy Orbison, Bob Dylan and Jeff Lynne of ELO to form the Traveling Wilburys, a side project that won a Grammy in 1990. In 1989 Petty released his first solo album, “Full Moon Fever,” featuring “Free Fallin’ ” and “I Won’t Back Down.” The album “Wildflowers” was released in 1994. The following year he won a Grammy for “You Don’t Know How It Feels.”

Petty was married twice, first to Jane Benyo, with whom he had two daughters. The couple divorced in 1996. In 2001 he married Dana York and became a stepfather to her son. Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2001. Petty continued to record albums until the final years of his life, releasing his most recent album with the Heartbreakers in 2014.

The album was somewhat controversial and contained a bonus track, “Playing Dumb,” that deals with the sex abuse epidemic and cover-up in the Catholic Church. When asked about the song during an interview with Billboard magazine (July 29, 2014), Petty explained, “If I was in a club, and I found out that there had been generations of people abusing children, and then that club was covering that up, I would quit the club. And I wouldn’t give them any more money.”

He died at age 66 on Oct. 2, 2017 of an accidental drug overdose, ruled the Los Angeles County medical examiner. His wife later told Billboard that he had put off having surgery for a fractured hip in order to go on a final tour: “That’s why he wouldn’t go to the hospital when his hip broke. He’d had it in mind it was his last tour and he owed it to his longtime crew, from decades some of them, and his fans.”

Photo: Petty in 2012 in Denmark. CC 3.0.

Freedom From Religion Foundation