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Tom Petty performs on stage
Tragic Stories About Tom Petty And The Heartbreakers
History - Science
Content Warning
The following story mentions child abuse and addiction.
Tom Petty’s dad, Earl Petty, was a violent alcoholic. Tom said his father ruthlessly beat him with a belt for the first time when he was five.
In junior high, he ran away to his grandmother’s, but Earl brought him back and further abused him. Tom said the abuse likely led to his later success as music helped him cope.
Tom was close to his mother, Katherine “Kitty” Petty, who introduced him to music. “She tried to keep an element of civilization in the house,” he said.
Kitty had epilepsy and cancer, and Tom visited but was admittedly more focused on his music career in Los Angeles than his ailing mother, causing regrets when she died in 1981.
By then, Tom was so famous that he decided not to attend her funeral, fearing that his presence would be distracting, another decision that would later haunt him.
Founding member and keyboardist of the Heartbreakers, Benmont Tench, turned to heavily using drugs and alcohol to cope with anxiety and depression.
Tench thought it would help with creativity and songwriting but said the "Coffee with Alice" podcast, “It ended up taking that away from me and slamming that door shut.”
Tom Petty may have seemed like the most easygoing, confident guy on the planet, but he was notoriously introverted and suffered severe stage fright before shows.
Petty managed performance anxiety and brought enjoyment back to doing shows with a ritual to shower, drink tea, do vocal warm-ups, and review the setlist before taking the stage.
On May 17, 1987, a still-unknown person intentionally set fire to Petty’s house in Encino, California, while he, his then-wife, and one of his daughters were inside.
After smelling smoke, he managed to get his wife and daughter out just in time. Then he attempted to extinguish the flames before the hose melted in his hands.
The destructive fire resulted in $1 million in damages, caused everyone psychological distress, and inspired Petty's 1989 hit song "I Won't Back Down."