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Tom Petty, American rock ‘n’ roll everyman, stricken with cardiac arrest

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Posted on : October 3, 2017

Tom Petty in 1976.
Image: Richard E. Aaron/Redferns

1:50 p.m. PT UPDATE: Updated to reflect new report that Petty still alive, but “not expected to live through the day.”

Tom Petty, the gaunt, unassuming rocker with the sly grin, sleepy demeanor and biting voice whose decades of American rock ‘n’ roll hitmaking put him among the best-selling music artists of all time, has suffered a cardiac arrest and was “not expected to live through the day,” TMZ reported Monday.

CBS News reported that the 66-year-old had died, citing Los Angeles Police Department sources. But the LAPD later tweeted that it had released that information inadvertently and TMZ updated its post to say he was still clinging to life but “is not expected to live through the day.” An email to Petty’s music agent was not immediately returned.

Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers had just wrapped their 40th Anniversary tour in Los Angeles last week, which Petty said himself would probably be their last. TMZ first reported that Petty was found unresponsive late Sunday night at his Malibu home, and though emergency responders got a pulse, he had no brain activity and was removed from life support after arriving at UCLA Santa Monica Hospital. 

Petty dropped out of high school in the late 1960s to focus on his Gainesville, Florida-based band Mudcrutch, but it was his band Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers that broke through with “Breakdown,” the biggest hit from their 1976 self-titled album. 

Petty made more than a dozen records with the Heartbreakers, a collaboration that spanned five decades and produced such monster radio hits as “American Girl,” “Refugee” and “Don’t Come Around Here No More.”

But his peak commercial moment was his solo debut, the 1989 album Full Moon Fever, which utterly dominated radio for more than a year with huge hits “Free Fallin’,” “Won’t Back Down” and “Runnin’ Down a Dream.” At a time when classic rock was beginning to show its age, Full Moon Fever felt fresh immediate, reinvigorating a genre that’s still a major force in concert-ticket sales.

Petty was also central in the 1980s supergroup the Traveling Wilburys, featuring pals Bob Dylan, George Harrison, Roy Orbison and Jeff Lynne. Petty sang the verses on that group’s biggest hit, “The End of the Line.”

With more than 80 million records sold, Petty ranks among the top 100 best-selling music artists of all time — all the more remarkable in that he didn’t rely on flashy clothes, an outrageous persona or particularly innovative musical stylings to get there. His stripped-down Rickenbacker guitar sound, roots-rock and all-American themes were all it took to put him in that rarified air.

This story is developing …

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