The demise of celebrated musician Tom Petty was a consequence of an inadvertent overdose on several medications, as per a family statement on tompetty.com as well as an official announcement from the Los Angeles County Medical Examiner on Friday. According to the statement published on Facebook, the 66-year-old Petty had been dealing with multiple health issues prior to his passing on October 2.
Despite his deteriorating health, he displayed remarkable commitment towards his fans, continuing to perform for 53 dates on tour even with a fractured hip that worsened into a more severe condition. It was on the day of his death that he was informed about his hip’s full-on fracture. His family believes that the unbearable pain led him to overmedicate.
The Medical Examiner’s release reveals that Petty’s autopsy showed numerous drugs in his system: opioids fentanyl, oxycodone, acetyl fentanyl, and despropionyl fentanyl; sedatives temazepam and alprazolam; and antidepressant citalopram. His passing was attributed to multisystem organ failure, triggered by cardiopulmonary arrest due to a mixture of drug toxicity. The manner of death was deemed accidental. Other health issues included coronary artery atherosclerosis and emphysema.
Acetyl fentanyl is unapproved for medical usage in the US and remains a schedule I drug. Fentanyl, a potent prescription painkiller, has led to a national health crisis. A CDC estimate links over 20,000 of the 64,000+ US drug overdose deaths in 2016 to synthetic opioids, predominantly fentanyl and its variants.
Petty’s death comes in the wake of another music legend, Prince, who also succumbed to an overdose of fentanyl in 2016. After collapsing at his Malibu home, Petty was rushed to UCLA Medical Center, where he passed away due to what was then assumed to be cardiac arrest.
In a statement, Petty’s family acknowledged that he was prescribed numerous pain medications including fentanyl patches. They expressed assurance that, as per the coroner, his death was an unfortunate accident. They anticipate this report instigating further discussions on the opioid crisis and hope that it could potentially save lives.
Previously, Petty had openly discussed his drug issues. In a 2015 biography, he shared his 1997 battle with heroin addiction after a collapsed marriage and an unsuccessful album.
Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers rose to prominence in the 70s with their third album, “Damn the Torpedoes”. With a slew of hits including “Free Fallin’,” “American Girl,” and “I Won’t Back Down,” Petty, solo and with the band, was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 2002. Collaborating with a myriad of artists over the years, Petty concluded a summer tour with three performances at the Hollywood Bowl shortly before his demise.
A Glimpse into the Life of Tom Petty
Renowned rock musician, Tom Petty, kick started his career with a band named Mudcrutch. The band was later re-established as Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, launching their first album in 1976. This marked the beginning of a highly successful journey, adorned with best-selling albums and popular singles like “American Girl,” “Refugee,” “Don’t Come around Here No More” and “Learning to Fly.” Over the years, Petty teamed up with several renowned rock musicians like Stevie Nicks, Bob Dylan, George Harrison, and Johnny Cash, earning three Grammy Awards for his contributions to music.
Born on October 20, 1950, in Gainesville, Florida, Petty was the eldest son of Earl and Kitty Petty. Although he had a strained relationship with his abusive father, Petty found solace in music, drawing inspiration from Elvis Presley and the Beatles, and learning guitar.
During his high school years, Petty evolved into a passionate musician. He started playing bass for a local band named the Epics. At 17, he quit school to join Mudcrutch, a new group named after the farm where two of its members resided. Petty’s role in the band was pivotal as he was the lead vocalist and key songwriter, helping the group earn local fame.
The year 1974 was notable for Petty; he married his girlfriend, Jane Benyo, moved to Los Angeles with Mudcrutch, and signed with Shelter Records. Despite Mudcrutch’s single not gaining much attention leading to their disbandment, Shelter Records acknowledged Petty’s potential and gave him a solo contract.
The Era of Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers
Petty, after some failed attempts to create a new band, reunited with former Mudcrutch members Mike Campbell (guitar) and Benmont Tench (keyboards). Joined by bassist Ron Blair and drummer Stan Lynch, they formed Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers. Their debut album, released in November 1976, was a blend of hard rock with pop influences from 60s bands like the Beatles and the Byrds, and featured Petty’s unique voice and storytelling abilities.
Despite initial low sales, the album gained traction after a tour in England with Nils Lofgren, and even made it to the British charts. Their single “Breakdown” was re-released in the US and reached No. 40 on the charts. Surprisingly, “American Girl,” didn’t reach the American charts until it was re-released years later.
Unfazed by these setbacks, they recorded their second album, 1978’s You’re Gonna Get It!, which performed better, reaching No.23 on the charts and featuring popular singles “Listen to Her Heart” and “I Need to Know.” Their progress was momentarily hindered when Shelter was bought by MCA. Petty’s efforts to renegotiate their contract sparked legal battles that left him in financial troubles and resentment.