GAINESVILLE — The legendary Tom Petty, author and performer of such American anthems as “Refugee,” “The Waiting” and “Free Fallin,’” has died at the age of 66 after suffering cardiac arrest at his Malibu home.
Petty was born and raised in Gainesville and it was there that he began a remarkable music career that spanned over 40 years. Petty and his most popular and well-known collaborators—the Heartbreakers—just finished a 40th anniversary tour.
“I’m thinking it may be the last trip around the country,” Petty said to Rolling Stone of the anniversary tour last year. “We’re all on the backside of our 60s. 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.”
Just after the tour, Petty walked the comments back to a degree, stating that the anniversary tour would be the last big tour but that he still had every intention of performing.
In addition to the Heartbreakers, Petty has played on solo albums and with Mudcrutch and the supergroup The Traveling Wilburys (together with Bob Dylan, ELO’s Jeff Lynne, Roy Orbison and George Harrison of the Beatles). From the 1970s to today, Petty has sold in excess of a whopping 80 million records.
Hearing the news, Dylan said of his friend: “I thought the world of Tom. He was great performer, full of the light, a friend, and I’ll never forget him.”
Ringo Starr, who was featured in the video for Petty’s “I Won’t Back Down” with the late Harrison, tweeted a simple, “God bless Tom Petty.”
The timeless Petty—always seen about with his long, stringy blond hair and unpretentious style—was an institution in the rock and roll community, known and seemingly loved by all. He was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame with the Heartbreakers in 2002 by friend Dylan’s son, Jakob Dylan of The Wallflowers.
Ever one to shake things up, Petty made waves even with his death, which was reported several hours early in error by media outlets as ubiquitous as Rolling Stone and CBS News.
CBS defended themselves, stating that their reporting was based on “information obtained officially” from the LAPD.
The LAPD, in response, tweeted that it had “no information about the passing” of the singer and that “initial information was inadvertently provided to some media sources.
Petty’s daughter, Annakim Violette, took the reporting error particularly badly, calling out Rolling Stone and writing, “How dare you report that my father has died just to get press because your articles and photos are so dated.”
She continued: “This is my father not a celebrity. An artist and human being. Fuck u.”
The official statement of Petty’s death came from his manager, Tony Dimitriades. He said:
“On behalf of the Tom Petty family we are devastated to announce the untimely death of our father, husband, brother, leader and friend Tom Petty. He suffered cardiac arrest at his home in Malibu in the early hours of this morning and was taken to UCLA Medical Center but could not be revived. He died peacefully at 8:40 p.m. PT surrounded by family, his bandmates and friends.”
Truly the end of an era, and the closing of a major chapter in the history of rock and roll.