The word icon is grossly misused, but if there was ever an appropriate use of the term, it would be to describe the iconic American musician, Tom Petty.
Born Thomas Earl Petty on October 20, 1950, in Gainesville, Florida, he was inspired to pursue music after meeting Elvis Presley at the age of 10. When the burgeoning talent saw the Beatles on the Ed Sullivan Show, he knew he wanted to be in a rock band.
Before his dreams of musical accomplishment were realized, Petty worked at the University of Florida. An Ogeechee lime tree on campus is known as the Tom Petty Tree.
Most well-known for his band, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, the group had its first big success in Britain in 1977. The band’s American audience gained momentum with the release of You’re Gonna Get It!. Their third album, Damn the Torpedoes, quickly went platinum, solidifying the band’s U.S. appeal and beginning Petty’s journey to rock superstardom.
Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers enjoyed well-deserved success inclluding colaborations and tours with artists such as Bob Dylan, Stevie Nicks, The Grateful Dead, and Live Aid.
In 1988, Petty joined the Travelling Willburys, a group founded by George Harrison and included Roy Orbison, Bob Dylan, and Jeff Lynne.
Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers reorganized in 1991 and released Into the Great Wide Open, which included the hit singles “Learning To Fly” and “Into The Great Wide Open”.
His live-recorded Greatest Hits package: “Mary Jane’s Last Dance” and “Something in the Air” went on to sell over ten million copies and received diamond certification by the RIAA.
Petty and the Heartbreakers released the movie soundtrack for She’s the One in 1996. That year, the band accompanied Johnny Cash on Unchained (AKA: “Petty Cash”), for which Cash would win a Grammy for Best Country Album.
In 2005, Petty showed he could keep up with the times and began hosting his own show “Buried Treasure” on XM Radio, on which he shared selections from his personal music collection.
Highlighting the halftime-show of Super Bowl XLII on February 3, 2008, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers performed “American Girl”, “I Won’t Back Down”, “Free Fallin'” and “Runnin’ Down a Dream”.
The first Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers album to ever top the chart came on July 29, 2014, the band’s thirteenth studio album, Hypnotic Eye. The album debuted at number one on the Billboard 200.
In 2006, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers received the keys to the city of Gainesville, Florida. Petty added the keys to a massive lineup of awards and accolades including: a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, the Billboard Century Award, UCLA’s George Gershwin and Ira Gershwin Award for Lifetime Musical Achievement, and the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers’ Golden Note Award.
Tom Petty died on October 2, 2017 as a result of cardiac arrest.