THE death of American rock star Tom Petty was announced yesterday. He was 66 and succumbed to a heart attack at his home in Malibu, California.

According to a statement released on behalf of his family by his long-time manager Tony Dimitriades, Petty was taken to UCLA medical centre but could not be revived, and died peacefully on Monday night at 8.40pm Pacific Standard Time (4.40am on Tuesday BST) surrounded by his family, his bandmates and friends.

“We are devastated to announce the untimely death of our father, husband, brother, leader and friend Tom Petty,” Dimitriades said.

America has lost another legend of rock music, a distinctive individual who with his band The Heartbreakers crafted numerous rock classics and kept performing for more than 40 years.


Petty was born in Gainesville, Florida, on October 20, 1950. By most accounts he had a hard childhood and did not prosper at school. Something of a minor miracle occurred when, at the age of 10, his uncle Earl Jenigan, a film developer, introduced Petty to Elvis Presley who was then filming Follow That Dream on location at Ocala near the Petty home.

Petty was starstruck as Uncle Earl introduced Elvis to his nieces and nephews. The King of Rock n’ Roll smiled and nodded to each open-mouthed youngster. “I don’t know what he said because I was just too dumbfounded,” Petty recalled years later, “and then he went into his trailer.” Followed by hundreds of screaming girls, it should be said.

From that day Petty told his family he wanted to be a rock n’ roll musician, and the following year he acquired his first guitar and learned the whole Elvis songbook.

With the “British invasion” and “Beatlemania”, Petty’s mind was made up – he wanted to be in a rock n’roll band. He switched to electric guitar, grew his hair, left school at 17 and joined a band called The Sundowners, playing bass.

He founded a band called the Epics, which transformed into Mudcrunch. When Petty eventually formed The Heartbreakers with Mike Campbell, Benmont Tench, Ron Blair and Stan Lynch, their first chart success came in Britain where they also toured as support act to Nils Lofgren.

Giant success came with their third album, Damn The Torpedoes which sold two million copies and had three hit singles, Don’t Do Me Like That, Refugee and Here Comes My Girl.

Throughout the 1980s, Tom Petty and The Heartbreakers made successful albums and they were one of the hits of the American side of Live Aid in 1985.

They toured with Bob Dylan and he and Petty wrote songs together. Despite changes in personnel and long periods of working with other people such as Stevie Nicks and Johnny Cash, The Heartbreakers kept re-uniting, especially for a smash-hit 30th anniversary tour and one of American entertainment’s greatest accolades – they performed the half-time show at Super Bowl XLII in 2008.


Though the Heartbreakers never officially ended, Petty joined Dylan, Jeff Lynne of ELO, and Roy Orbison in the Traveling Wilburys, the supergroup formed by George Harrison. During that time he wrote I Won’t Back Down, a personal anthem that helped make his first solo album Full Moon Fever a multi-platinum seller. It re-surfaced after the 9/11 attacks when radio stations played it almost ceaselessly, and two years ago Sam Smith and Petty reached an agreement on royalties after Smith’s hit Stay With Me had a clear resemblance to the song, though Petty never accused the English star of plagiarism.


It does him no disservice to say that Tom Petty could have been an even bigger star than he was, but he always made individual choices about his music and the direction in which he and The Heartbreakers would travel. Yes, he made plenty of money, but Petty himself acknowledged that he could have made much more if he had played the star system.

Tributes yesterday came from rock royalty – Mick Jagger, Elton John and so many more.

Eric Clapton said yesterday: “He’s such a huge part of our musical history, there’ll never be another like him.

Alice Cooper tweeted: “It is so rare to find someone who commands such universal respect in the business.

Ringo Star tweeted: “God bless Tom Petty peace and love to his family I’m sure going to miss you, Tom.”

Bob Dylan said: “It’s shocking, crushing news. I thought the world of Tom. He was a great performer, full of the light, a friend, and I’ll never forget him.”

Bruce Springsteen wrote on Facebook: “I’ve always felt a deep kinship with his music. A great songwriter and performer, whenever we saw each other, it was like running into a long lost brother. Our world will be a sadder place without him.”