Tom Petty, tireless live performer, dies aged 66
American singer-songwriter Tom Petty, known for his gritty, nasal vocals, chiming guitar riffs and prolific output first with the Heartbreakers, then the Traveling Wilburys and as a solo artist, has died aged 66 – just a week after wrapping up the Heartbreakers’ 40th Anniversary tour.
The news was confirmed by his long-time manager, Tony Dimitriades, this morning, who confirmed media reports Petty had suffered a heart attack at his home in Malibu, California, yesterday evening. He died “peacefully at 8.40pm” local time, says Dimitriades, “surrounded by family, his bandmates and friends”.
With the Heartbreakers, Petty (pictured) – who first achieved fame in the late ’70s with an unpretentious, relatable brand of roots rock dedicated to what he once called “America’s losers and fighters and dreamers” – had toured almost constantly since 1977, with a two and a half-year stretch between 1991–92’s Into the Great Wide Open tour and 1995’s Dogs with Wings his longest period off the road.
The Heartbreakers’ 2014 North American trek, in support of their 13th album, Hypnotic Eye – the most recent tour for which there is box-office information – grossed US$26.4m from 35 shows. Their 53-date 40th Anniversary tour kicked off in March and wrapped up at LA’s Hollywood Bowl on 25 September, visiting arenas across the US and pausing only to play for record numbers of fans at BST Hyde Park in London in June.
A statement from Live Nation, which produced the tour, reads: “We are deeply saddened to learn of Tom Petty’s passing. He was a titan of rock and roll, an extraordinary songwriter and performer and an American legend.
“Tom was a true rock and roll purist, both in his music and his defiant spirit”
“It was an honour to work with him over the years, and particularly on his recent 40th anniversary tour. Our thoughts are with his family, friends and all fans of this gifted artist.”
In addition to his live and recorded careers – he sold more than 80m records worldwide – Petty was well known as an staunch advocate of artistic control and artistic freedom, being named MusiCares person of the year by the Recording Academy earlier this year for his “career-long interest in defending artists’ rights” and his charitable work with homeless people in LA.
Neil Portnow, president and CEO of the Recording Academy, describes Petty as 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 fuelled a now legendary career and some of the most memorable music of the last four decades. […]
“Tom will be remembered as much for his humanity as his music. Our sincerest condolences go out to his family, friends and colleagues as they look to find comfort during this difficult time.”
Watch footage of Petty’s final encore, playing ‘You Wreck Me’ and ‘American Girl’ at the Hollywood Bowl, below: