Tom Petty’s Early Years
Born on Oct. 20, 1950, and raised in Gainesville, Florida, Tom Petty dropped out of high school to pursue music with his band Mudcrutch, which included future Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers members Mike Campbell (second from left) and Benmont Tench, as well as Randall Marsh (second from right) and Tom Leadon (right).
Tom Petty’s First Big Hits
Mudcrutch eventually split up, and Petty considered going solo. But after hearing some of Tench’s new work, Campbell and Petty re-joined forces with him, adding Ron Blair and Stan Lynch to the mix. The group’s early success actually came in England, though singles “Breakdown” and “American Girl” became ’70s radio hits. Damn the Torpedoes was their breakthrough in 1979, with “Don’t Do Me Like That” and “Refugee” both Top 40 hits (torpedoes peaked at No. 2 on the Billboard 200 albums chart). Two years later, hard promises provided another hit with “The Waiting.”
Tom Petty’s Family Troubles
Though enjoying his success, Petty was hiding a lot of demons, which came out in 2015’s Petty: The Biography. The singer recalled physical abuse at the hands of his father; losing his mother in 1980 at the height of his fame; and heroin abuse in the 1990s. “It’s an ugly f—ing thing. Really ugly,” he told writer Warren Zanes. “I fear that if I talk about it, people will think, ‘Well, I could do it and get off.’ But you can’t. Very few people do.”
Tom Petty in Movies and TV
Petty found added fame on screens, too, with a cameo in 1978’s FMa bit part in 1987’s Made in Heaven (right, with Timothy Hutton) and parts in It’s Garry Shandling’s Show, The Simpsons and King of the Hill.
Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers
Petty and the Heartbreakers spent 1986 touring with Bob Dylan (right), who, though at that time long out of his period of country-tinged, jangly folk-rock that was his clearest link to Petty’s sound, was a clear influence on Petty. The two men became friends, joining forces in the supergroup the Traveling Wilburys, which also featured George Harrison, Roy Orbison and Jeff Lynne.
Tom Petty and Jane Benyo
Petty tied the knot with Jane Benyo (right) in 1974; the two were married until September of 1996 and together had two daughters, Adria and AnnaKim Violette.
Tom Petty and Stevie Nicks
In the ’80s, Petty dueted with Stevie Nicks on a song he penned, “Stop Draggin’ My Heart Around.” It began a series of collaborations for the two. “She’s a good friend,” Petty told the Toronto Sun years later. “I’ve known her since 1978 and she’s insisted on being her in my life. Some of my best musical memories of her are sitting on the couch and just playing the guitar while she sings.”
Tom Petty’s Star on the Walk of Fame
The group was honored with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in April 1999. “We used to walk up and down this street and look at the stars and never dreamed we would have one,” Petty told the crowd.
Tom Petty and Dana York
In 2001, at age 50, Petty tied the knot again, with longtime girlfriend and fan Dana York (here with him at a 2014 event). The two wed in Las Vegas in early June, before saying “I do” in front of friends and family at their Malibu home several weeks later. Little Richard officiated.
Tom Petty at the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame
In 2002, Tom Petty and The Heartbreakers were inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. “I am truly humbled,” Petty said in his portion of the band’s acceptance speech. “The music overcame me at a very early age and has consumed my life. I love everything about it — all the people I’ve met, the great times they’ve had. I thank this rock ‘n’ roll for the freedom it’s given me, and I thank the fans for such a wonderful life. And I thank God for all of it.”
Tom PettyPlays the Super Bowl
In 2008, a new generation of fans met Petty and his bandmates when the group performed during the Super Bowl XLII halftime show. The set list included favorites like “American Girl,” “I Won’t Back Down,” “Free Fallin'” and “Runnin’ Down a Dream.” (Watch the full video here.)
Tom Petty’s Family
Petty’s daughter Adria (pictured here with Dad at the 2012 MTV VMAs) is a film director who’s worked with a host of A-list celebs. His younger daughter, AnnaKim Violette, is an LA-based artist. He also has a stepson, Dylan, from his second marriage.
Tom Petty’s Final Years
In 2017, Petty and The Heartbreakers kicked off the 40th anniversary tour. But for a group who’d spent years in the studio and on the road, it was looking like this could be a final hurrah. “I’m thinking it may be the last trip around the country,” Petty told rolling stone. “It’s very likely we’ll keep playing, but will we take on 50 shows in one tour? I don’t think so. I’d be lying if I didn’t say I was thinking this might be the last big one. We’re all on the backside of our sixties. I have a granddaughter now I’d like to see as much as I can. I don’t want to spend my life on the road. This tour will take me away for four months . With a little kid, that’s a lot of time.”
On Oct. 2, 2017, the rocker was taken to a hospital after suffering cardiac arrest at home, but died that night. The cause of death was later found to be an accidental drug overdose. Petty was 66 years old.