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Legendary Rocker Tom Petty Confirmed Dead

The music icon was hospitalized on Sunday night, per TMZ.

02/10/2017 22:13 SAST | Updated 03/10/2017 14:19 SAST
Mark Horton via Getty Images
OTTAWA, ON - JULY 16: Tom Petty of Tom Petty And The Heartbreakers performs on Day 10 of the RBC Bluesfest on July 16, 2017 in Ottawa, Canada. (Photo by Mark Horton/Getty Images for ABA)

Tom Petty, lead singer of Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, died on Monday, his family announced. He was 66.

Petty was found unconscious in his home Sunday night and was rushed to the UCLA Medical Center at Santa Monica while in “full cardiac arrest,” according to TMZ. The outlet reported he was taken off life support the next day when he was found to have “no brain activity.”

Several news outlets, including HuffPost, had announced the singer’s death earlier Monday after the Los Angeles Police Department “inadvertently provided [info] to some media sources.” The outlets walked those reports back, and the police apologized for the error.

Late Monday, the band’s manager released a statement confirming the death of the music icon:

Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers released their self-titled debut in 1976, which included the Top 40 hit “Breakdown.” Over the following decades, the band turned out over a dozen studio albums and a steady string of hits that included “Don’t Do Me Like That,” “Refugee,” “The Waiting” and “American Girl.” 

Petty also kept busy with solo hits such as “Free Fallin’” and “I Won’t Back Down,” as well as performing with the band Mudcrutch and the Traveling Wilburys, a folk-rock supergroup featuring Bob Dylan, George Harrison, Jeff Lynne and Roy Orbison. 

Dylan, reached by Rolling Stone, described Petty’s death as “shocking, crushing news” and said he would always remember his friend.

“I thought the world of Tom,” he told the outlet. “He was great performer, full of the light, a friend, and I’ll never forget him.”

Paul Natkin/Getty Images
Tom Petty (left) and Bob Dylan perform onstage at the Poplar Creek Music Theater in Hoffman Estates, Chicago, Illinois, July 22nd, 1986

Born in Gainesville, Florida, on Oct. 20, 1950, Petty’s childhood was marred by poverty and hardship. In “Petty: The Biography,” written by fellow musician and superfan Warren Zanes, Petty recalled being frequently beaten by his abusive father

“When my father got home ... he came in, took a belt and beat the living shit out of me,” he said. “He beat me so bad that I was covered in raised welts, from my head to my toes. I mean, you can’t imagine someone hitting a child like that.”

Petty said he found solace and meaning through music early on. At the age of 11, he famously met Elvis Presley while the rock and roll star was in Florida filming a movie. 

In an interview with Esquire, Petty said he remembered Presley looking almost mythical. “I was really young and impressionable,” Petty recalled. “Elvis really did look ... sort of not real, as if he were glowing. He was astounding, even spiritual.”

Petty said his meeting with Presley sparked his love for rock and roll, but it was The Beatles’ 1964 appearance on “The Ed Sullivan Show” that convinced him to make his own music.

“This was the great moment in my life, really, that changed everything,” he said. 

Petty quit high school when he was 17 to join Mudcrutch, a rock group that would include two of his future bandmates, Mike Campbell and Benmont Tench. The pair would join Petty to become longtime members of the Heartbreakers in 1975. The newly formed group released their debut album, “Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers,” a year later.

The group had a slow beginning, but became a hit a few years later with the album “Damn the Torpedoes,” which sold 3 million copies and was certified multiplatinum. Petty and the Heartbreakers continued to tour for decades, releasing hit record after hit record, including several with Petty billed as a solo artist with backing from several bandmates. 

The hit song “Free Fallin’” came in 1989 as part of his debut solo album “Full Moon Fever,” which sold 5 million copies and went on to become his best-selling record.

Following the end of his first marriage, to Jane Benyo, after more than 20 years, Petty fought and overcame heroin addiction in the late 1990s, spending time in rehab.

“Using heroin went against my grain,” he told Zanes, his biographer. “I didn’t want to be enslaved to anything. So I was always trying to figure out how to do less, and then that wouldn’t work. Tried to go cold turkey, and that wouldn’t work. It’s an ugly fucking thing.”

Petty went on to produce more hit records and tour the world, including two headlining spots at the Bonnaroo Music Festival ― in both 2006 and 2013.

“I like to play these festivals. We’re one of those old, lucky bands,” Petty told Rolling Stone in 2013. “Young people come to see us. It makes a difference.”

He added that the previous few years had been “so wonderful” for the band. 

“We’re such happy campers – sickeningly happy,” he said.

Petty, who sold more than 80 million albums worldwide over the course of his illustrious career, was nominated for 18 Grammy awards and won three, including Best Male Rock Vocal Performance in 1995 for “You Don’t Know How It Feels.” He’s also considered one of the greatest songwriters to have ever lived

In 2002, Petty was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame alongside the rest of the Heartbreakers. 

“A rock star is the single purest mainstream manifestation of the American dream,” he said at the time, expressing gratitude for the honor. “I marvel at this.”

The Heartbreakers have continued to perform with few changes to the band’s original lineup, marking the 40th anniversary of their debut record last year. Their anniversary tour kicked off in April, but in an interview with Rolling Stone, Petty called it the group’s “last big one.”

“We’re all on the backside of our sixties,” he said. “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.”

Petty’s daughter AnnaKim shared a series of Instagram posts late Monday remembering her father’s legacy and her experiences growing up the child of a rock star.

Early Tuesday, she posted an image of Petty with the words “RIP.” She also shared the lyrics to Petty’s song “Alright for Now,” which begins: “Goodnight baby, sleep tight my love. May God watch over you from above.”

Petty is survived by his second wife, Dana York, whom he married in 2001, his daughters Adria and AnnaKim, and a stepson, Dylan.

RIP💜

A post shared by Ilovemyfamily (@dadlivesmatteronelove) on

Mourning Petty’s death, some fans have been sharing a particularly poignant song on social media: The 1989 Traveling Wilburys’ song “End of the Line,” which was released after the death of band member Roy Orbison.

“Maybe somewhere down the road a ways, you’ll think of me,” Petty croons in the song. “And wonder where I am these days.” 

This story has been updated to include confirmation Petty died, as well as to account for earlier mistaken reports of his death.

Ed Mazza contributed reporting.

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