MALIBU (AP) — Tom Petty, frontman for Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers, among the most dependable classic rock groups of the last quarter century, died Monday night at age 66, the band's manager announced.
Petty suffered cardiac arrest at his home in Malibu early Monday morning and was taken to UCLA Medical Center, but could not be revived. He died peacefully at 8:40 p.m., surrounded by family, his bandmates and friends, according to Tony Dimitriades, longtime manager for Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers.
Petty was a hard-working, likeable and unpretentious musician. Like fellow artists Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band, Petty and the Heartbreakers were always considered a "people's band,'' whose concise, tuneful songs spoke of everyday struggles.
His last stage appearance took place Sept. 25 at the Hollywood Bowl, the last of three sold-out shows there marking the finale of the band's extensive North American tour celebrating the 40th anniversary of their self-titled debut album. On Sept. 17, Petty and the Heartbreakers headlined the third night of Kaaboo Del Mar in San Diego.
Petty once said, "I'd like to see us break some new ground and leave some sort of mark on the music. That would be the nicest thing — to give something back, as noble as it sounds. If you could make some little dent in rock, where that little area is yours — that's what I'm striving for now.''
Petty and his longtime band mates first came together in the early 1970s in their hometown of Gainesville, Florida. Their self-titled debut album appeared in 1976, and the band scored hits over several decades, including "American Girl,'' "Free Fallin','' "Breakdown,'' "Refugee,'' "Mary Jane's Last Dance" and "I Won't Back Down.''
Petty was also a member of the collective the Traveling Wilburys in the late 1980s alongside Bob Dylan, George Harrison, Roy Orbison and Jeff Lynne.
Known for a slurred, relaxed vocal delivery, a scarecrow pose and swaying dirty-blond hair, Petty's no-frills sound was inspired by The Beatles, the Byrds and Dylan. Born and raised in northern Florida, he began playing music while still in high school and at 17, he formed Mudcrutch, which included future Heartbreakers Mike Campbell and Benmont Tench.
By 1970, Mudcrutch had moved to Los Angeles with hopes of landing a record contract. Over 40 years, Petty and the Heartbreakers remained true to their classic-rock roots as decades of fleeting musical fads and styles faded away.
Among the career highlights was a collaboration with Stevie Nicks that resulted in the hit single/duet "Stop Draggin' My Heart Around''; his work in a popular "Alice in Wonderland''-themed video for "Don't Come Around Here No More"; and a well-received 1986 tour with Dylan. In 2002, Petty and the Heartbreakers were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and in 2007, the group was the subject of Peter Bogdanovich's four-hour documentary, "Runnin' Down a Dream.''
In 2014, Petty and the Heartbreakers' 13th album, "Hypnotic Eye'' was their first to reach No. 1 on the charts. He also curated "Tom Petty Radio,'' a station on SiriusXM satellite radio where he hosted his own "Buried Treasure'' show.
"Tom Petty was one of the biggest inspirations for me as a musician,'' tweeted Kings of Leon's Nathan Followill. "This one will hurt for a long time. Truly one of the sweetest people on earth. Rest in Peace brother.''
"No words. Just thanks,'' wrote filmmaker Cameron Crowe, who once directed a video for Petty and used his music in films.
In a 2015 biography, for which Petty collaborated with author and friend Warren Zanes, the rocker revealed a bout with heroin addiction in the 1990s and told of a May 1987 arson fire that destroyed his former home in Encino.
According to several biographical sources, Petty married his second wife, Dana, in 2001. He reportedly has two daughters from a previous marriage and a stepson with his current spouse.
Tweeted the E Street Band's Steven Van Zandt: "Man this cannot be happening. Not Tom Petty please. Our deepest love and condolences to his family and band. A brother and true believer.''
Neil Portnow, president and CEO of the Recording Academy, which conducts the Grammy Awards, called Petty "a true rock and roll purist, both in his music and his defiant spirit.''
"With the Heartbreakers, his infectious riffs, rebellious personality, and inventive songwriting brought a new urgency to rock traditions and fueled a now legendary career and some of the most memorable music of the last four decades,'' Portnow said.
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