Tom Petty dead at 66

Tom Petty, whose Florida-bred quintet the Heartbreakers was one of the defining arena-rock acts of the 1970s with hits like “Breakdown,” has died after suffering a heart attack Sunday at his home in Malibu, Calif., a source confirms to Variety. He was 66.

Police responded to his home a 10:50 p.m. Sunday night and he was transferred to UCLA-Santa Monica Medical Center, where he was on life support until Monday.

Petty toured all summer across the U.S., with the last date at the Hollywood Bowl on Sept. 25. He had been scheduled to play two dates in New York in November. However, he had cancelled a few shows during the tour for laryngitis.

Singer-songwriter-guitarist Petty arrived on the national scene during the period between the original classic rock era and the arrival of punk. His taut, thoughtful and heartfelt songs – which elaborated on the work of such precursors as the Byrds – resonated with an audience looking for a new hero.

With their breakthrough third album, 1979’s triple-platinum “Damn the Torpedoes,” the Heartbreakers established themselves as a top contender among American acts of the era. The unit ultimately released eight top-10 albums and nine top-20 singles. The group’s 1993 “Greatest Hits” collection sold more than 10 million copies.

Penning economical, affecting, hook-laced songs (frequently in partnership with guitarist Mike Campbell) that never shied away from complex emotions or dark narratives, Petty approached rock music with the fervor of the true believer.

Recalling his first performance with a band as a teenager to biographer Warren Zanes, he said, “The first time you count four and, suddenly, rock and roll is playing – it’s bigger than life itself. It was the greatest moment in my experience.”

Despite dramatic exits from the Heartbreakers’ original lineup, the expulsion and overdose death of the group’s latter-day bassist and Petty’s intermittent struggles with drugs and depression, the Heartbreakers sustained their massive popularity for more than four decades.

With 1989’s “Full Moon Fever,” Petty established a concurrent solo career that saw the release of three top-10 albums. He also hit the upper reaches of the charts on two albums with the supergroup the Traveling Wilburys, a collaborative effort with Bob Dylan (with whom the Heartbreakers toured internationally in the late ’80s), George Harrison, Jeff Lynne and (on the debut release) Roy Orbison.

Petty also returned to his Sunshine State roots with two top-10 albums that…

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