Three years ago today, the rock word faced a particularly harsh blow with the sudden death of the legendary Tom Petty at age 66 at UCLA Medical Center, one day after suffering cardiac arrest at his home. Before the official announcement came down, fans had spent the better part of October 1st on tenterhooks as word was incorrectly leaked by law enforcement earlier in the day that Petty had died of a heart attack — before it was retracted and announced that he was alive, yet unconscious and pulled off life support.
Petty had wrapped his 40th anniversary tour with the Heartbreakers on September 25th, 2017 at L.A.’s Hollywood Bowl. According to TMZ: “(Petty’s wife) Dana York seemed confused and upset when she dialed 911 on Sunday, October 1st at around 10:45 PM. The dispatcher tried to get her to administer CPR, but Dana needed help. You hear another man take the phone but then Dana takes it back. She hears very soft breathing, tries CPR and it seems he breathes better. . . Tom was in full cardiac arrest and unconscious. He was taken to the hospital and put on life support but there was no brain activity. A chaplain came to administer last rights and he was taken off of life support.”
The site posted that Petty was taken off life support and at “10:30 Monday morning (October 2nd), a chaplain was called to Tom’s hospital room. We’re told the family has a do not resuscitate order on Tom. The singer is not expected to live throughout the day, but he’s still clinging to life. A report that the LAPD confirmed the singer’s death is inaccurate — the L.A. County Sheriff’s Dept. handled the emergency.”
According to a source close to Tom Petty, the Heartbreakers leader lived in near constant pain, with an unnamed insider telling Radaronline.com, “Tom hadn’t been doing well for a while, and when the band got back from London, he seemed to be on his last legs. Back in the ’90s, Tom had a very bad heroin habit, and it left him with muscle and bone pain. Recently, Tom had to be given vitamin B12 shots — 30 or 40 units a day — just to give him the energy to perform! Tom was in severe pain. He was due to have a hip replacement and was exhausted from working his butt off. . . His family begged him to rest up, but he vowed to finish the tour for his fans. Tom knew there wouldn’t be any more shows. He wanted to go out on top. He blew the place away! Tom left it all on stage. Unfortunately, it cost him his life! Tom knew he gave everything he had to rock ’n’ roll and his fans. He was ready to go.”
Tom Petty’s death was officially ruled an accidental overdose. The Los Angeles County Medical Examiner stated the cause of death to be “multisystem organ failure due to resuscitated cardiopulmonary arrest due to mixed drug toxicity.” The report noted that Petty suffered from coronary artery atherosclerosis and emphysema.
Prior to his death, Petty, who was suffering from a broken hip, “had taken several pain medications, including Fentanyl, oxycodone and generic Xanax. Other medications included generic (sleep aid) Restoril, and generic Celexa, (which treats depression).
The musician who was undoubtedly closets to Tom Petty was his partner in crime since the early-’70s, guitarist, collaborator, and co-producer Mike Campbell. Campbell, who along with Petty’s family and Heartbreakers bandmates were at his bedside in his final hours, just recalled the scene at the hospital to Rolling Stone, “They had his hair straight. He was medicated and very still, but he looked like an angel. . . Sorry I’m crying. It’s going to take me a while, but I’m at peace with the way we left things. . . It was more than friendship. It was almost like destiny or a divine power that brought us together.”
Campbell is now part of Fleetwood Mac’s touring unit, which includes Petty’s 1989 Full Moon Fever classic “Free Fallin'” in the band’s setlists.
Campbell, who was aware that Petty was dealing with hip pain during the band’s final tour, revealed that he asked Petty about it, recalling, “I’d check on him and say, ‘Are you OK?’ He never said, ‘I’m dying! I can’t do this!’ The worst he would say was, ‘I can feel it, but I can do the show.’ His face was always full of joy. After a while, I quit worrying about him.”
CHECK IT OUT: Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers closing out their final show on September 25th, 2017 performing “American Girl” live at the Hollywood Bowl: