Tom Petty: Remembering an American Original

Tom Petty, the dynamic and iconoclastic frontman who led the Heartbreakers for 42 years, died Monday, October 2, 2017 at 66, just 18 days before his 67th birthday. Petty’s death was confirmed by Tony Dimitriades, longtime manager of Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers, on behalf of the family.

In addition to his long-running role as the leader of the Heartbreakers, Petty was one of the true rock and roll gods of the 20th century. He was also a member of the legendary supergroup, The Traveling Wilburys, along with band-mates Bob Dylan, George Harrison, Jeff Lynne,  and Roy Orbison from 1988 to 1991.  (Harrison passed away in 2001. Orbison died in 1988)

“We are devastated to announce the untimely death of of our father, husband, brother, leader and friend Tom Petty,” Dimitriades wrote. “He suffered cardiac arrest at his home in Malibu in the early hours of this morning and was taken to UCLA Medical Center but could not be revived. He died peacefully at 8:40 p.m. PT surrounded by family, his bandmates and friends.”

Petty was found unconscious, not breathing and in full cardiac arrest at his Malibu home,  where EMTs on the scene were able to find a pulse when they found him, but emergency room doctors  found no brain activity when he arrived.

read more about this story in Rolling Stone

Update:  After a four month wait, the Los Angeles County Medical Examiner finally ruled that Petty’s death was the result of a “multisystem organ failure due to resuscitated
cardiopulmonary arrest due to mixed drug toxicity,” noting the singer suffered from coronary artery atherosclerosis and emphysema.

The Examiner’s toxicology report indicated that  Petty’s blood work showed that he had recently ingested a combination of Fentanyl, oxycodone, Xanax, Restoril  and Celexa, according to a January 20, 2018 report, also from Rolling Stone.

Tagging Petty’s cause of death as “cardiac arrest” is, however, not an acceptable diagnosis, when it is clear from the toxicology that Petty actually died from drug-mixing in a pattern that suggests the singer was “self-treating” himself with a variety of drugs in an effort to combat several chronic conditions.

Petty’s close friend and musical collaborator, Fleetwood Mac band member Stevie Nicks, told
the audience at the 2018 Fleetwood Mac’s MusiCares Person of the Year induction ceremony that Petty had not been well during the six months the band spent on tour, celebrating their 40 year career. According to Nicks, Petty “fought his way through that tour.”

“He should’ve canceled, and he should’ve just gone home and gone to the hospital. But not Tom. He was gonna go down that river. And so, God bless him, he finished his tour at the Hollywood Bowl. Three shows. And one week later he died — but he got down the river. So Tom, I know you’re standing next to me cause you always have been for so many years.”

Read more at Huffington Post 

As someone who spent 20 years in the addiction treatment field, I have to say that calling Petty’s death the result of an accidental overdose is a distortion of the facts. There is no such thing as an accidental overdose, unless you are talking about heroin, when you are unsure about the potency of the drug. Petty knew what he was taking, and he knew that he was mixing drugs in a dangerous manner that made it almost inevitable that he would get into serious trouble.  He did what he did because he didn’t want to let his fans down.

When we hear about the untimely deaths of icons like a Tom Petty, we have to stop and think about the fact that our demands upon our icons often drive them to do unhealthy things to meet their obligations. To us, for the price of a overpriced ticket. It happened with Michael Jackson, and now it has happened with Tom Petty, as it has happened with so many icons over the years.

Magic always come with a price.