Forty years after he formed Mudcrutch in 1967, Tom Petty reunited his first band to rehearse for a new album and tour. “Watching him play ‘Shake, Rattle and Roll,’ the smile on Tom’s face made clear the excitement he had for making music,” journalist Alan Light exclusively told Closer Weekly in a new interview. “It felt like a very real, honest, joyful moment.”
That genuine love for rock ’n’ roll permeated Tom’s life, which ended tragically on Monday, Oct. 2 when he suffered cardiac arrest at the age of 66. “For a superstar, it was remarkable how unpretentious he was,” biographer Warren Zanes told Closer. “Tom didn’t lord it over you in any way. When he was offstage, he was just another guy who loved Elvis, the Beatles, and James Brown.” He joined the ranks of these icons as the frontman of Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, a muscular, straight-ahead rock band he founded in his hometown of Gainesville, FL, in 1976. His name came first on a string of hits like “Breakdown” and “Refugee,” but “I don’t treat the band like I’m above them,” Tom once said. “I’m a team player.”
Tom (third from left) with the Heartbreakers in 1976.
Tom joined an all-star team in 1988 with the formation of the Traveling Wilburys, alongside childhood idols Roy Orbison, George Harrison, and Bob Dylan as well as ELO vet Jeff Lynne. Still, “None of us had to take the heat by ourselves — I was just a member of the band,” Tom said. “We had such a good time.”
Loyalty was always key for Tom, whether to his bandmates in the Heartbreakers (Mike Campbell, Benmont Tench, Stan Lynch, and Ron Blair) or to his family. “We had a great life,” Tom’s first wife, Jane Benyo, told Closer. “We went through a lot of things together — we had two kids and a house that burnt down [in a 1987 LA arson]. He was an amazing person and a great father.” Tom is survived by his daughters, Adria, 42, and AnnaKim, 35, and granddaughter, Everly. “I feel grateful for having the greatest rock star as a dad,” AnnaKim wrote in an Instagram post shortly after his death.
Tom in 2016.
A desire to spend more time with his family — including Dana York, his wife since 2001 — led Tom to declare that his recently concluded 40th-anniversary tour with the Heartbreakers might be his last major outing. “I don’t want to spend my life on the road,” he said. Sadly, “I think this tour did him in,” Benyo said. “He gave everything he had to every show. Touring is hard when you’re young, and he’d been doing a heavy-duty tour.”
On the last stop, a week before his death, Tom told his legions of adoring fans at the Hollywood Bowl, “I want to thank you for 40 years of a really great time. We’re almost out of time.” Then he launched into a roaring rendition of his anthem “American Girl” before bidding his final farewell. “Thank you so much. God bless you. Good night,” he said.
Tom and his wife, Dana, in 2014.
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