LOS ANGELES (Reuters) – Veteran US rocker Tom Petty, whose vibrant guitar riffs, distinctly raw, nasal vocals and slick song lyrics graced such hits as Refugee, Free Fallin’ and American Girl, has died following a heart attack. He was 66.
Petty suffered cardiac arrest and was found unconscious at his home in Malibu early on Monday morning and was taken to UCLA Medical Center but could not be revived, his long-time manager Tony Dimitriades said in a statement.
“We are devastated to announce the untimely death of our father, husband, brother, leader and friend Tom Petty,” Dimitriades said on behalf of the family.
He died peacefully at 8.40pm local time surrounded by family, his bandmates and friends.
Bob Dylan called his death “shocking, crushing news” in a statement to Rolling Stone magazine.
Petty, best known for his roots-infused rock music, carved a career as a solo artist as well as with his
band The Heartbreakers and as part of supergroup The Traveling Wilburys.
Petty and The Heartbreakers embarked on a 40th anniversary tour of the United States this year and last played three dates in late September at the Hollywood Bowl in Los Angeles. The band was scheduled to perform two dates in New York in November.
Petty formed The Heartbreakers in the mid 1970s, but it wasn’t until the band’s third album Damn the Torpedoes in 1979 that their music really took off, with hits such as Refugee and Don’t Do Me Like That.
He and the band were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2002, when they were described by organisers as “the quintessential American individualists”, capturing the voice of the American everyman.
“Music, as far as I have seen in the world so far, is the only real magic that I know,” Petty once said during an interview with CNN. “There is something really honest and clean and pure and it touches you in your heart.”
Petty also co-founded the 1980s supergroup The Traveling Wilburys with Dylan, Roy Orbison, George Harrison and Jeff Lynne, penning hits such as End of the Line and She’s My Baby.
Dylan said in his statement that Petty was “a great performer, full of the light, a friend, and I’ll never
Ex-Beatle Ringo Starr wrote on Twitter: “God bless Tom Petty peace and love to his family I’m sure going to miss you Tom.”
Petty was born on October 20, 1950 in Florida. He had a rough childhood and did not do well in school, according to the New York Times. He caught the rock‘n’roll bug after he was introduced by his uncle to Elvis Presley, who was shooting the picture Follow That Dream on location in Florida in 1960.
He got his first guitar in 1962 and was influenced by the Beatles, growing his hair long and switching to electric guitar. In the mid-1960s, he joined his first band, the Sundowners.
Petty dropped out of high school when he was 17 and joined Mudcrutch, a band with which he moved to Los Angeles in 1970.
The band broke up and Petty drifted from band to band before joining back up with his bandmates from Mudcrutch in 1975. The group became Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers in 1976, according to Allmusic.com.
The band, which recorded 16 albums, culled “the best parts of the British Invasion, American garage rock, and Dylanesque singer/songwriters to create a distinctively American hybrid that recalled the past without being indebted to it”, the site said.
Amid his successes, Petty also suffered dark periods during a career spanning five decades.
A 2015 biography of the singer, Petty: The Biography, revealed for the first time the rocker’s heroin addiction in the 1990s.
Author Warren Zanes said in an interview with The Washington Post that Petty had succumbed to the drug because he “had had encounters with people who did heroin, and he hit a point in his life when he did not know what to do with the pain he was feeling”.
Petty also suffered from depression, channelling his pain into 1999’s Echo, during which he was also dealing with a divorce. In 2002, he married Dana York and said he had been in therapy for six years to deal with depression.
“It’s a funny disease because it takes you a long time to really come to terms with the fact that you’re sick – medically sick, you’re not just suddenly going out of your mind,” he said at the time.