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Following the tragic news of the death of Tom Petty, Chloë Moloney remembers the American musician famous for selling ‘upwards of 80 million records’, both solo and with his most famous band The Heartbreakers.


Much to our dismay, the pitiless hands of 2017 have snatched another star from the tapestry of the American music scene. The confusion over Tom Petty’s health, and now subsequent death, sent fans into a tailspin on Monday. The American rock singer was found unconscious and not breathing in his home in Malibu, after suffering from cardiac arrest. Petty was admitted to hospital, but unfortunately did not survive the evening. His death was falsely recorded by media outlets, which Petty’s daughter firmly denounced, before his passing at 20:40 Pacific time – officially confirmed by his family and manager. Tom Petty was born on 20th October 1950 in Florida and was best known as the lead singer of Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers – releasing their debut album in 1976. Throughout his career, Petty sold upwards of 80 million records, therefore marking him as one of the most successful musicians of all time.

Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers was not the only group to be graced with Petty’s virtuosic talents. Petty also played with the Sundowners, the Epics, and Mudcrutch, but it was the Heartbreakers which brought the nation to their knees. With anthems such as ‘Refugee’, ‘American Girl’ and ‘Mary Jane’s Last Dance’, Petty’s nasally voice and all-American twang proved to be seminal in shaping the music of today. In 2002, Petty was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and his authoritative stamp on the industry has inspired artists such as Kings of Leon, The Strokes, The Foo Fighters and more. Spreading his wings and launching a solo career in 1989, Petty’s first solo album Full Moon Fever heralds titles such as ‘Free Fallin’, ‘I Won’t Back Down’ and ‘Runnin’ Down A Dream’. These few songs alone are marked as some of the most influential and distinguished gems in the musical history.

The star’s childhood proved to be particularly rough. Growing up in poverty, with an alcoholic and abusive father, Petty claims a pivotal moment in his tumultuous life was his encounter with the king of rock and roll. Meeting Elvis Presley in 1961, and shaking his hand, the rocker asserted that ‘that was the end of doing anything other than music with [his] life. Nonetheless, Petty’s relationship with the music industry was certainly fraught at times. A lyric from Full Moon Fever’s ‘I Won’t Back Down’ encapsulates his fight for musical justice: ‘You can stand me up at the gates of hell but I won’t back down.’ Petty was regarded as being staunch in the fight for artistic control and freedom, with frequent legal disputes to his name.

Tributes to the star have poured in, from the likes of Cyndi Lauper, Bob Dylan and Brian Wilson. Dylan, who was a member of group the Traveling Wilburys with Petty in the late 1980s, told the Los Angeles Times that it was ‘shocking, crushing news’. Carole King, Sir Paul McCartney, Sir Mick Jagger have also led tributes to the late musician.

Sir Paul McCartney also tweeted his condolences:

Having performed at British Summer Time in Hyde Park, London only a few months ago – alongside Fleetwood Mac’s wonder woman Stevie Nicks – Petty successfully tied up the summer with a 40th anniversary tour. His sparkling career ended with three sold-out dates at the Hollywood Bowl, the last being only a week ago. Nevertheless, it appears that Petty was conscious of his career perhaps coming to an end, stating to Rolling Stone magazine that he was ‘thinking this might be the last big one’, with the members of the Heartbreakers ‘all on the backside of [their] 60s’.

Despite a gleaming career as one of America’s most renowned rock stars, Tom Petty was unable to escape the ruthless grasp of 2017. With Steely Dan’s Walter Becker passing only a month ago, and innumerable talents slipping away over the past year, we pray and plead that our most gifted musicians lay untouched.


Were you a big fan of Tom Petty? Let us know in the comment section below.

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