Tom Petty, who died on Monday night at age 66, has left behind a legacy for friends and lovers, including his ‘fiery, intense’ chemistry with Stevie Nicks, a tortured first marriage, and the second wife he credited with saving his life.
Petty, a Southern hillbilly from Gainesville, Florida, escaped his dysfunctional home life with a father who was a drunk and ‘beat the living s**t’ out of him, according to author Warren Zanes in Petty, The Biography.
As a young teen, Petty liked art, clothes and wearing his hair long after the Beatles arrived on the music scene.
His parents thought he was gay, but it wasn’t so – Petty had an eye for the ladies.
If a girl in junior high school didn’t show him the same attraction he felt for her, he was traumatized and felt paralyzed.
Fiery friendship: ‘She came into my life like a rocket, just refusing to go away,’ Petty says of pal Stevie Nicks. The two spent time together on tour, in addition to smoking pot and doing cocaine together
Tom Petty with his first wife Jane in 1989. The couple had two daughters together but a tortured relationship
Early days: Danny Roberts, Cordell, Petty, Benmont Tench, Randall Marsh and Mike Campbell formed the band Mudcrutch. They broke up in 1975 and Petty formed the group Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers that same year with former members, Tench and Campbell
‘When I got my feelings hurt, I really couldn’t have felt worse. It was physical. My throat clamped up, and I just wanted to die’.
‘As a young man and as a child… I was very sensitive, too delicate. When it came to emotional stuff, I could break like a twig’.
Petty met Jane Benyo, his first wife, when they were both in high school.
Nicks, who had a longtime friendship with Petty, once asked Jane when she’d met him.
‘She said, “I met him at some point during the age of 17”,’ she told Billboard.
‘But I thought she said, “The edge of 17.” I said, “Jane, can I use that? Can I write a song called Edge of Seventeen?”‘
The young couple lived together in Gainseville as Petty’s band evolved and his ambitions grew.
Volatile marriage: A 24-year-old Tom Petty married Jane Benyo in 1974. He tells how that marriage fell apart when Jane, who struggled with mental illness, became verbally abusive to him and their two daughters
Music legend: Tom Petty with Mike Campbell at Mudcrutch Farm, 1970. Petty’s music came out of a love for Chuck Berry, the Beatles and R&B. The emotion of that influential music made his songwriting relevant and took him to the top of the charts
The Heartbreakers: The band in Germany in 1977. This concert was recorded live after the release of their first album which contained the hit ‘Breakdown’, that became a Top 40 hit in the US
ingers Stevie Nicks (L) and Tom Petty backstage at The 2003 Radio Music Awards
Smoking cigarettes and ‘herb,’ playing songs and talking about how to make a record demo was a daily ritual with band members. The plan evolved to head for the promised land – Hollywood.
Jane insisted they get married before they left Florida.
Tom didn’t want to, but honored his mother’s request to do ‘the right thing’.
California was everything he dreamed it would be.
Petty rented a small house in Sherman Oaks in the San Fernando Valley and Jane started having babies – two girls – but this wasn’t the life that she envisioned.
It was a lonely existence with Tom rarely home. So she got high and drank to ease her loneliness and isolation.
Tom’s music was drawing other artists to him and one of those seduced by the music was singer Stevie Nicks, from Fleetwood Mac, who suggested even before she met him that she would leave her monumentally successful Fleet group and joined what was by then Petty and the Heartbreakers.
There was a chemistry that Stevie called ‘intense, fiery’ as they worked and played together.
Lifesaver: Petty credits second wife, Dana York, with saving him after sticking by his side during a time when he was addicted to heroin and in a deep depression
Tom Petty and wife Dana during SNL Season Premiere – After-Party
She was doing a lot of drugs when she first showed up and indulged Jane who embraced it.
‘Petty’s friendship with Nicks would finally be one of the few human constants in his life outside of his band, management, and crew. She’d come in and out over decades,’ his biographer wrote.
‘She came into my life like a rocket, just refusing to go away,’ Petty told the author.
Even Stevie realized there was a deep sense of connection in Tom and Jane Petty’s marriage – but it was a troubled dream that was falling apart.
Petty arrived home from recordings session to find Jane passed out in the hallway – not from liquor alone.
Touring on the road doing a lot of coke and then back home only briefly before hitting the road again and consuming more coke, Petty was now a rock ‘n’ roll star but his family life was decimated.
By 1984, he knew he was leaving his marriage.
Tom considered canceling an eighteen-month road tour with Bob Dylan in 1986, because Jane was losing a fight with mental illness at their home in Encino, but Stevie convinced him to go.
Stevie went along as well, ‘having a great time’ and joining them on stage.
Stevie Nicks and Tom Petty performing. The two had a long friendship and creative partnership
Stevie Nicks and Tom Petty perform at the Concert for Artists’ Rights at the Great Western Forum in Inglewood, California
Back in Los Angeles and off the road, Tom left his wife, moved into a house in the Pacific Palisades and suffered terrible pain and guilt over leaving his family.
‘Jane would call regularly, obsessively, and threaten suicide if he said he was hanging up,’ writes Zanes.
With his life changing and the emotional walls that Petty had formed in childhood, he was sinking into a deep depression.
He entered therapy before getting divorced.
A life of hell in Gainesville had segued into an abusive marriage.
Nobody realized though that Tom was now using heroin – not even Stevie.
‘I would never imagine, not in a million years that Tom Petty would start using heroin’, Stevie said.
‘I mean, we used to sit around and drink, and we did coke and smoked pot – and that was hard enough on us.
Behind the scenes: On the set of the ‘Don’t Come Around Here No More’ video shoot in 1985 that was themed around Alice in Wonderland. This was the first song that Petty wrote with Dave Stewart from the Eurythmics and it had a psychedelic sound, a first for Petty
Petty credits his second wife Dana with helping him escape the ravages of heroin addiction
‘But if you’d have said to me that Tom Petty was doing that, I wouldn’t have believed you for a second’.
Tom met Dana York, who would become his second wife, at one of his concert in Texas in the early 90’s, but they didn’t reconnect until 1996 when Dana’s first marriage was over.
Tom and Dana both felt as though they had known each other their entire lives and were fast falling in love.
Tom was using heroin, but didn’t want Dana to know and kept it from her for a long time – while Jane called obsessively and threatened suicide.
‘I’d stepped onto a fast-moving train, but we were having moments of tremendous happiness. Chaos and darkness and all this happiness at the same time’, Dana Petty told the author.
But the elephant in the room was heroin.
Petty’s therapist told him that ‘People with your level of depression don’t live. ‘They kill themselves or someone else’.
‘He was a man playing at the edge of death.’ says the author.
It was Dana who saved him, Petty admits.
Dana’s own father struggled with addiction most of his life so she understood the complications and was willing to stand by him.
Tom was hospitalized when he admitted to his therapist that he was a drug addict.
‘They shoot this drug into you that literally drives the heroin out and your body goes into spasms. It forces the detox process.’ Two days later, he woke up.
Back home, a doctor came daily for months to administer a medication that blocked the effects of an opiate.
Dana was there waiting when he came through it all and Petty put his relationships with his daughters back together after being emotionally absent for years.