Just a few days after his sold-out Hollywood Bowl finale that marked the close of Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers’ 40th Anniversary Tour in triumph, Petty passed away. After suffering cardiac arrest, he died peacefully in the loving presence of his family, band, and close friends at the age of 66.
One of music’s brightest and best selling artists, the frontman of the Heartbreakers tragically lived up to the name even in his final days. Petty had persevered through the pain of a fractured hip throughout the six month summer tour, but endured its aches for the sake of fulfilling his self-described purpose of performing.
“It’s hard for me,” he confessed to The Los Angeles Times. “If I don’t have a project going, I don’t feel like I’m connected to anything. I don’t even think it's even that healthy for me. I like to get out of bed and have a purpose.”
Hardworking, grounded and convicted by his passions, Petty was an all-around American who fought to achieve his dreams. His musical identity evolved in the beginning stakes of his career, from leading the band “Epics,” which soon shifted to “Mudcrutch” (in addition to pursuing a solo career in 1975), but the core of the man remained concrete.
He was never one for pretentiousness and his catalog confessed as much, including the 1991 knockout “Learning to Fly,” as he sang, “Well, some say life will beat you down, break your heart, steal your crown, so I’ve started out for God knows where, I guess I’ll know when I get there.”
Still, when negotiating with the industry’s most powerful executives in business deals gone bad, Petty stood his ground, even to the point of bankruptcy, while recording his album on his own cent.
Following the bitter, tiring months of litigation was the 1979 Damn the Torpedoes, simultaneously charting as number two on the album chart, and further cementing Petty’s rock-solid songwriting sensibilities.
His voice was clearly a staple on classic rock stations, but Petty graced the airwaves in an additional endeavor; he was a part of music history and simultaneously helped chronicle it, too, on his SiriusXM radio show ‘Buried Treasure.'
Here he educated the public on both artists great and small that were amassed in his personal collection, elaborating on each song’s context, explaining the layers of a musical genre, and occasionally interviewing artists.
Generating large traction from both his fans and music connoisseurs alike, his show was cut short by his untimely death, but the strength of his legacy continued willfully, with momentum, as Petty pupils buried themselves in his Greatest Hits compilation album, which remains his best-selling album today.
In every sense of the word, Petty was a visionary, happy to push forward the dreams of others in accompaniment of his self-made journey to humble stardom.