Tom Petty Overcame Abuse and Addiction on the Way to Stardom


Won’t Back Down

By Staff Writer

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Tom Petty was definitely, positively, not a one-hit wonder — except for the fact that, to millions of people, he was. Over forty years, Petty wrote at least ten songs that would have been the pinnacle of a lesser artist’s career; each of those songs was completely eclipsed by the one perfect thing Tom Petty did — he gave us “Free Fallin.’ “ Many Petty tunes deserve to be remembered, and hardcore music fans will oblige. But decades from now, our children’s children will still roll down the window on cool autumn nights and scream “Free Fallin’ “ into the darkness outside the car windows.

Forgive the awkward sentence that follows, but it’s really the only perfect way to say it: the thing that made Tom Petty Tom Petty was Tom Petty’s voice. Music has seen nothing like it. We’ve seen artists with powerful voices, gravelly voices, sultry voices; we’ve seen talents that could make the air in the stadium supercharged with the sheer talent of their delivery.

But Tom Petty was just cool. That sounds like an oversimplification, and it would be if we were talking about anyone else. To invent a phrase: Tom Petty’s voice was medicinally cool. His delivery was effortless; he sang to stadiums as if he were just talking to a friend he was very comfortable with. The remarkable thing is that a voice so smooth could come from a life so tumultuous.

Petty’s childhood was often rocked by his abusive father; at times, he was beat so badly that his mother and grandmother had to tend the welts caused by the belt his father used. The emotional baggage of that abuse carried over into his first marriage; according to Petty, he and his wife “fought like f—ing Apaches.” Although the marriage lasted for 22 years, the constant turmoil of difficult marriage and worldwide fame drove Petty to a heroin addiction he struggled to keep under control — and under wraps.

Eventually, the star entered treatment in the late 90s when he tried to “figure out how to do less [heroin], and that wouldn’t work…Tried to go cold turkey, and that wouldn’t work.” Coming out of treatment, Petty wed his second wife, Dana York, in 2001.

The 2000s were marked by stability, success, and the quiet stardom that was Petty’s due after a lifetime of filling arenas. He kept recording and touring, finally landing the coveted Billboard #1 album with Hypnotic Eye in 2014. After that, he began scaling back his musical pursuits to spend more time with family in Malibu.

Tom Petty passed away following a cardiac arrest on October 2, 2017. We will not see another like him in our lifetime.