Tom Petty, the long-haired rocker whose famously nasal voice was behind some of rock’s greatest hits, was in the hospital Monday as unconfirmed reports of his death circulated.
The “Free Fallin’” singer, 66, was found unconscious and not breathing in his Malibu home, and was subsequently taken to the UCLA Santa Monica Hospital Sunday, where he “had no brain activity,” according to TMZ.
The gossip site reported that Petty was taken off life support on a do not resuscitate order from his family, and is currently “clinging to life.”
CBS News first reported that Petty had died, but the Los Angeles Police Department later said they had no information, and had no investigative role in the matter.
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Throughout his prolific career, Petty notched three Grammy wins and 18 nominations, and was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2002.
The Gainesville native launched his indelible legacy at 17, when he quit high school to join the Florida band Mudcrutch.
In doing so, he escaped an abusive father; a charming, charismatic man with a violent drunk streak. Music, Petty told Men’s Journal in 2014, was a “safe place.”
Though the group soon disbanded after heading west to Los Angeles, Petty soon found a better venture in Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, for which he served as lead singer and guitarist.
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After the release of their self-titled debut in 1976, the band quickly found fame on the back of the success of the single “Breakdown,” which broke the Top 40.
That album also included the song “American Girl.” Though the track never cracked the charts, it cemented itself as an American classic, as was ranked 76th on Rolling Stone’s list of “The 100 Greatest Guitar Songs of All Time.”
The band’s profile continued to rise with 1979’s “Damn the Torpedoes,” which peaked at No. 2 on the Billboard Hot 100 and included popular singles “Don’t Do Me Like That” and “Refugee.”
Throughout the ‘80s and into the ‘90s, Petty and his Heartbreakers churned out album after album, some, like 1981’s “Hard Promises,” achieving more success than others.
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Their most recent effort, 2014’s “Hypnotic Eye,” scored the rockers their very first No. 1 album.
Petty flirted with a solo career throughout, releasing three albums on his own: “Full Moon Fever” (1989), “Wildflowers” (1994) and “Highway Companion” (2006).
He also found time to help meld together a supergroup in the Traveling Wilburys. The legendary lineup included Petty, Bob Dylan, George Harrison, Jeff Lynne and Roy Orbison, all assuming different aliases under the last name “Wilbury.” The band – in which Petty was “Charlie T. Wilbury Jr” – released two albums to massive critical acclaim and commercial success.
Petty’s star didn’t flicker as he aged; if anything, it grew brighter, as he admitted in 2014 that old age wasn’t going to slow him down.
“I run a pretty fast-paced life and I always like having a project to do,” he said in 2014. “I hate to be bored. That is the greatest sin I can commit. I’m sure it irritates a lot of people around me but I like to keep moving.”
Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers wrapped up a lengthy North American tour just before his death with the bandmates he heaped praise upon in a 2014 interview.
“I don’t see that I have anything to offer as a solo artist that I couldn’t do within the group better,” he told the Sun. “We get along so well it’s embarrassing really. It’s a love fest!”
Petty was also considering releasing a deluxe verison of “Wildflowers,” his 1994 solo album, this year, and treating fans to an intimate, acoustic-focused tour.
He is survived by his wife, Dana York, whom he married in 2001, two daughters and one stepson.
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