Running down a dream: Remembering Tom Petty

The rock and roll world received a crushing blow this past week when news broke on Monday, Oct. 2, that rock legend Tom Petty had passed away.

Reportedly, the musician was found unconscious in his home in Malibu, California in full cardiac arrest, and was promptly rushed to the UCLA Medical Center where doctors tried in vain to revive him. Although rumors of his death began to come out throughout the day, Petty was said to have been kept stable, albeit in a vegetative state, until the decision was made by his family to take him off of life support. He was pronounced dead at 8:40 p.m.

The 66-year-old had just completed a summer tour with his band, The Heartbreakers, which coincided with the 40th anniversary of the band’s formation, and neither Petty nor his bandmates showed signs of slowing down anytime soon. Despite his untimely death, Petty left behind an impressive legacy to look back on.

Born on Oct. 20, 1950 in Gainsville, Florida, where he would spend most of his childhood, Petty first became interested in rock and roll when he met Elvis Presley at the age of 10 on the set of the Presley film “Follow That Dream,” which Petty’s uncle had been working on. The young Petty was an instant fan, and immediately went to trade in his slingshot for Elvis records. Petty himself identified the exact moment he realized he wanted to be in a band, when he saw The Beatles perform on The Ed Sullivan Show in 1964.

“The minute I saw the Beatles on the ”Ed Sullivan Show” – and it’s true of thousands of guys- there was the way out,” Petty said in an interview with CBS News. “There was the way to do it. You get your friends and you’re a self-contained unit. And you make the music. And it looked like so much fun.”

It was only a matter of time until Petty dropped out of school at the age of 17 to play bass in an ever-rotating roster of local garage-bands.

Petty’s first real band, Mudcrutch, managed to gain a local following in Gainsville, but not much beyond that, and the band broke up in 1975 after their only single, “Depot Street” failed to perform. Undeterred, Petty and former Mudcrutch bandmates Mike Campbell and Benmont Tench got their first taste of success when they reformed as The Heartbreakers. The band gave Petty a career that persisted throughout the rest of his life, and yielded a number of classic albums, such as “Damn The Torpedoes” as wells as hit singles, including “Breakdown” and “Running Down A Dream.”

Aside from his work with The Heartbreakers, Petty took time for a successful solo career, which yielded three albums and hit songs such as “Free Fallin’” and “I Won’t Back Down.” He also became a co-founder of the supergroup The Travelling Wilburys, along with friends and fellow musicians George Harrison, Bob Dylan, Jeff Lynne and Roy Orbison, recording two hit albums and yielding hit songs “Handle With Care” and “End of the Line” until the group disbanded following the death of Orbison in 1990.

An inductee of the rock and roll hall of fame, Petty enjoyed a life doing what he loved surrounded by people he loved. Along with daughters Adria and AnnaKim Violette, Petty leaves behind an impressive songbook, millions of adoring fans, and a number of famous friends, many of whom have expressed their heartbreak at the news of his death.

“It’s shocking, crushing news. I thought the world of Tom,” remarked Traveling Wilburys bandmate and friend Bob Dylan in an interview with the Los Angeles Times. “He was a great performer, full of the light, a friend, and I’ll never forget him.”

“Down here on E Street, we’re devastated and heartbroken over the death of Tom Petty,” Bruce Springsteen wrote in a Twitter post that Tuesday. “Our hearts go out to his family and bandmates. I’ve always felt a deep kinship with his music. A great songwriter and performer, whenever we saw each other it was like running into a long-lost brother. Our world will be a sadder place without him.”