Tom Petty, a True Rock ‘n’ Roll Star—An Appreciation

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Tom Petty at Prudential Center, Newark, NJ, June 16, 2017 (Photo © Greg Brodsky)

So you want to be a rock and roll star, then listen now to what I say. Just get an electric guitar, then take some time and learn how to play.

And play he did.

Tom Petty, just 66 when he died on October 2, 2017, was one of the youngest of the great rock ‘n’ roll generation’s stars.

He and his band, the Heartbreakers, had just completed a 40th Anniversary tour, with a final concert at the Hollywood Bowl on Sept. 25.

In my review of the band’s June 16 concert at the Prudential Center in Newark, NJ, I wrote: “Not many classic rock bands get to enjoy a 40th anniversary and even fewer are able to do so by selling out arenas wherever they play. The Heartbreakers are celebrating the occasion with as polished a set as any band you’ll see.”

Petty’s Facebook account posted a “thank you” to fans on Sept. 29, 2017

We learned what Petty’s wife, Dana, and eldest daughter, Adria, shared from the Medical Examiner’s statement: “an accidental drug overdose as a result of taking a variety of medications.” And we take solace in what they wrote: “We now know for certain he went painlessly and beautifully exhausted after doing what he loved the most, for one last time, performing live with his unmatchable rock band for his loyal fans on the biggest tour of his 40-plus year career.”

Petty idolized the Byrds and had famously incorporated their 1967 song, “So You Want to Be a Rock ‘n’ Roll Star,” written by Roger McGuinn and Chris Hillman, into his own band’s concert repertoire for decades.

Related: McGuinn performs Petty tribute

And though he was five to ten years younger than most of rock’s biggest names–heck, he was 14 years younger than his Traveling Wilburys’ bandmate Roy Orbison–Petty was, of course, their peer in every way. And then some.

This one’s personal. When I took that above photo of Petty from the photographer’s pit at the Prudential Center last June, he was looking right at me. He was my guy. But, of course, I knew that I shared him with countless others in Tom Petty Nation who recognized his remarkable gift.

Tom Petty. Rock and roll star. I didn’t see this one coming.

Related: Our obituary of an American rock giant

Greg Brodsky

3 Comments so far

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  1. Rob
    #1 Rob 2 October, 2017, 17:15

    I loved it when Petty would play his Rickenbacker 12 string. To me he sounded like a cross between Roger Mcguin and Bob Dylan

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  2. Timflyte
    #2 Timflyte 2 October, 2020, 00:21

    What a sad tale the way his life ended. Just like a few people I know and a few other celebrities, there comes a time when one’s health must be made #1 and lifestyle & career have to be put on the back burner. I’ve read stories where they say he kept going for his fans. Well I’m one fan that would’ve been than happy to let him stop & get the hip surgery that was needed. Today he could’ve been still here writing and recording. I think there is more to this story than what’s being told. I can’t believe his wife & family & friends & band members were ok with his decision to tour. Maybe his emphysema was so bad , he only had a short time anyway. My father died from that and it’s a terrible death.

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  3. Baybluesman
    #3 Baybluesman 2 October, 2023, 16:58

    Six years later, and it is still hard to fully accept that we will never see the genius of Tom Petty perform, or record, again.

    Thank goodness for “Pack Up The Plantation” as representative of Tom Petty and The Heartbreakers’
    exceptional musicianship and performing abilities, in a live setting.
    I had the official concert video on VHS; played the hell out of it, but lent it out one too many times….
    I have searched several times, but have yet to see it released on DVD – I hope Tom Petty’s estate (and the remaining Heartbreakers) sees its way into releasing it on DVD soon, for all the loyal life-long fans to enjoy, while we still can.

    In my mind, for me, October 2, 2017, is truly the day the music died……

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