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The Severe Health Problems That Tom Petty Hid From His Fans

Tom Petty had one of the most unique voices in the world of rock ‘n roll. He refused to let anyone tell him what to do or how to sing, and fans and critics appreciated him for it.

His music may be unique, but the story of his death is all too familiar. An accidental overdose from powerful opioids caused his organs to fail.

What many may not know is the pain and agony that he experienced before his death. He was desperate for relief, and it’s unclear whether or not surgery could have provided it and saved his life.

Like and subscribe for more on this rock icon. Watch our video to learn about the severe health problems that Tomy Petty hid from his fans and how they contributed to his death.

Early Life

Thomas Earl Petty was born on October 20, 1950, in Gainesville, Florida.  Warren Zane’s book Petty: The Biography released in 2015 reports that he had a difficult childhood where he experienced frequent beatings at the hands of his father.

He wasn’t a successful student and never had exceptional dreams until he began to find solace in music. He later called it the only real magic he ever encountered in his life.

Tom got his first guitar in 1962. He was inspired by the Beatles once they entered the scene, growing his hair long and switching to an electric guitar. He formed his first band, the Sundowners, in the mid-60s. They began finding gigs around Gainseville. This was only the beginning of a long and fruitful career full of hit songs.


Tom’s early influences included the Byrds, the Rolling Stones, Bob Dylan, and the Beatles. He combined them all into a unique musical style that attracted curious listeners.

Tom always preferred to have a steady band to work with. He formed Mudcrutch as a teenager, a band that featured guitarist  Mike Cambell and keyboardist Benmont Tench. They gained popularity in Flordia and moved to Los Angeles after signing a recording contract with Shelter Records. That only lasted a few years.

After getting married to Jane Benyo in 1974, Tom formed The Heartbreakers. They featured Mike and Benmont as well as Stan Lynch on drums and Ron Blair on bass.

Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers were together from 1975-2017. They were known for their contemporary take on the music of the 1960s.

Tom’s voice was grainy with a Florida drawl, but fans loved it. A few of the band’s most famous songs included Refugee, Don’t Come Around Here No More, Free Fallin’, and Into the Great Wide Open.

Their debut album, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, was released in 1976. It didn’t become popular until the band toured England and it appeared on the British charts. The single Breakdown reached #40 on the American charts.

Damn the Torpedos was released in 1979 and reached #2 on the Billboard album charts, selling over 3 million copies. Hypnotic Eye was released in 2014 and reached #1 on the album charts. Other albums that sold 1 million copies included Let Me Up (I’ve Had Enough) in 1987, Into the Great Wide Open in 1991, and Souther Accents in 1985.

All this success lead to plenty of contract disputes throughout Tom’s career. He had to fight for royalty rights after signing them off to Shelter.

Once the band signed with MCA, they wanted to sell the album Hard PRomises for $9.98, which is over $28 in today’s money, The usual price of an album was $8.98.

Tom was devoted to his fans and realized that many of them couldn’t afford such a steep price. He threatened to call Hard Promises The $8.98 Album, and his consistent efforts kept the label from raising the price.

The Heartbreakers worked with several other big names in the music industry, including Bob Dylan, Stevie Nicks, George Harrison of the Beatles, Jeff Lynne of the Electric Light Orchestra, and Roy Orbison of The Traveling Wilburys.

Tom felt that his best collaboration was when he and his band recorded the album Unchained with Johnny Cash in 1996. They also worked with him for his next 2 albums, including his last.

Many of the band’s platinum albums were recorded at the Cherokee Recording Studios. These included Damn the Torpedos and Hard Promises.

Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers also became popular enough to headline massive events. They were part of the Live Aid concert on July 13, 1985, and played the Super Bowl halftime show in 2008.

The Heartbreakers weren’t Tom Petty’s only successful band. George Harrison came up with the idea for The Travelling Wilbury’s, and he released 2 albums with them in 1988 and 1990. He also did several solo albums.

Full Moon Fever was released in 1989 and sold 5 million copies. Wildflowers was released in 1994 and sold millions of copies.

This 2nd solo effort came at a difficult time in his life. He’d recently divorced his first wife and was living alone, falling into depression and heroin addiction. Rehab helped him overcome it and find love again with Dana York who he married in 2001.

Like and subscribe to Facts Verse for more musicians who died far too soon due to accidental drug overdoses. Keep watching to learn more about the severe health problems that Tom Petty hid from his fans and whether receiving treatment for them could have saved him.

Death/Last Days

Tom cracked his hip during a rehearsal by the time the Heartbreakers were set to begin their 40th-anniversary tour in 2017. He decided to continue it instead of getting the necessary medical care.

He didn’t want to disappoint his fans or his band. He also decided it was important for his mental health, noting that “the road and the studio are the only places I’ve ever felt completely okay.”

Tom’s family notes that he also suffered from other health conditions in addition to his hip pain. They confirmed he had knee problems and potentially fatal emphysema from smoking. He felt terrible but needed to continue to perform.

The Heartbreakers played over 53 concerts by the time the tour was over, and Tom’s condition worsened after each one. He even struggled to walk at times and had to be helped onto the stage or driven from one location to another on a golf cart.

Tom’s wife Dana said that part of his insistence on continuing to perform was because he most likely knew it was his last tour. She and his daughter also said that his hip was already broken by the time he returned home on the last night of his life.

Tom took a mix of drugs to ease the pain. They included 3 kinds of Fentanyl and oxycodone, a  sleep aid called Restoril, and depression and anxiety meds Celexa and Xanax.

He was later found unconscious in his home, but it was too late to save him. He was already in full cardiac arrest and had stopped breathing. He was taken to the UCLA Medica Center in Santa Monica, California, but there was nothing they could do.

Tom Petty was declared dead at the age of 66 at 8:40 PM on October 2, 2017. It was listed as an accidental overdose. He was later interred at Westwood Village.

Could He Have Been Saved?

Tom Petty was only one of 70,000 Americans who died of a drug overdose in 2017. Over ⅔ of these were also caused by synthetic opioids.

Many of rock ’n roll’s most famous names died almost the same way that Tom did. Prince complained of shooting pains in his hip and ankles but refused to get surgery after becoming a Jehova’s Witness. He also died of a drug overdose at the age of 57.

Fentanyl is one of the most dangerous and frequently abused drugs in the world of music. Tom was on a fentanyl patch at the time of his death, but his family believes this was the drug that caused his organs to shut down.

Fentanyl is 30-50 times more powerful than heroin and was responsible for ⅓ of 65,000 fatal opioid overdoses in the US in 2017. Tom’s autopsy also found 2 even more deadly derivatives of the drug in his system.

Dr. William Harris says that hip surgeries used to be a dangerous procedure with 1 in 50 elderly patients dying of pulmonary embolism. There were also frequent complications such as bone wear and infections in 10% of cases. Years later, those rates were down to 0.5%.

Dr. Harris also says that an operation could have saved Tom but admits that God only knows the effect it would have had.

Tom’s Legacy and Unfinished Projects

Music critics recognized Tom Petty’s talent. He earned the #43 spot on VH1’s 100 Greatest Artists of Rock & Roll. He also received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame on April 28, 1999, and was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2002.

Tom Petty’s songs live on in the minds of his fans and the music world in general. His 1993 Greatest Hits collection remained on the Billboard album charts for 6 years.

They continue to inspire modern musicians as well. Sam Smith realized that his 2015 hit song Stay With Me was similar to I Won’t Back Down. He shared the songwriting credit with Tom who graciously called the similarities “a musical accident.”

Tom never wanted to stop working and had plenty of unfinished projects in mind before his tragic death. He hoped to continue his SiriusXM show Tom Petty’s Buried Treasure. He wanted to help The Shelters produce their 2nd album and continue to mentor them.

He also wanted to expand and reissue his 1994 solo album Wildflowers and was in the process of adding songs to it before his death. We may never know what these unfinished projects would have been like unless a fellow band member picks up the mantle and helps complete them.

The Heartbreakers continue to perform to this day, believing it would be what Tom would want. They know how much he loved his fans and said it wouldn’t be fair to not produce anything for them. They’ve released new versions of Tom’s best songs from both his solo albums and the ones he released with the band.

Have you been affected by Tom Petty’s music? Let us know in the comments below. Like and subscribe to Facts Verse for more on the legacy of the Heartbreakers and how they changed the world of music forever.

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