In the early hours of October 3rd, 2017, rock and roll icon Tom Petty was officially pronounced dead after nearly half a day’s worth of conflicting reports, most of which indicated the he had suffered a heart attack. Petty had just finished the a large-scale 40th anniversary tour with The Heartbreakers. Though he was pushing 70 years old, he appeared to be both good health and good spirits to those around him.
However, it was widely known among his associates that he had suffered a hip fracture, and had been fighting through pain during the majority of the Heartbreakers 40th tour. Following Petty’s death, Peter Wolf of J. Geils Band, the group that served as the openers on The Heartbreakers’ final tour, explained “He was going through some great pain” from his hip, yet “put on long, stellar shows,” Wolf says. “I’d watch him coming down from the stage. There was an inner force driving him.”
Today, autopsy results reveal that there were also external forces helping Petty play through the pain. After months of speculation as to the cause of Tom’s death the autopsy results have revealed that Petty passed away due to an accidental overdose on a variety of opioid painkillers and other prescription medications. Examiners found a wide array of pain meds in his system, including Fentanyl, oxycodone, and generic Xanax, as well as a sleep aid and an antidepressant.
The coroner’s office listed Petty’s official cause of death as “multisystem organ failure due to resuscitated cardiopulmonary arrest due to mixed drug toxicity,” noting the singer suffered from coronary artery atherosclerosis and emphysema.
Petty had famously been addicted to heroin for many years in the 90’s. As he explained in Petty: The Biography to author Warren Zane, “Using heroin went against my grain. I didn’t want to be enslaved to anything. So I was always trying to figure out how to do less, and then that wouldn’t work. Tried to go cold turkey, and that wouldn’t work. It’s an ugly fucking thing.” However, despite kicking the habit eventually, he was reintroduced to opiates in legal form as a method of pain management–a story that’s all too familiar as our country is in the throes of an opioid addiction epidemic.
As Tom’s wife and daughter Dana and Adria Petty explained in a statement, “On the day he died he was informed his hip had graduated to a full on break and it is our feeling that the pain was simply unbearable and was the cause for his over use of medication…As a family we recognize this report may spark a further discussion on the opioid crisis and we feel that it is a healthy and necessary discussion and we hope in some way this report can save lives. Many people who overdose begin with a legitimate injury or simply do not understand the potency and deadly nature of these medications.”
Read the full statement issued by Dana and Adria Petty (Tom’s wife and eldest daughter) below on the Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers Facebook Page:
Our family sat together this morning with the medical examiner – coroner’s office and we were informed of their final analysis that Tom Petty passed away due to an accidental drug overdose as a result of taking a variety of medications.
Unfortunately Tom’s body suffered from many serious ailments including emphysema, knee problems and most significantly a fractured hip.
Despite this painful injury he insisted on keeping his commitment to his fans and he toured for 53 dates with a fractured hip and, as he did, it worsened to a more serious injury.
On the day he died he was informed his hip had graduated to a full on break and it is our feeling that the pain was simply unbearable and was the cause for his over use of medication.
We knew before the report was shared with us that he was prescribed various pain medications for a multitude of issues including fentanyl patches and we feel confident that this was, as the coroner found, an unfortunate accident.
As a family we recognize this report may spark a further discussion on the opioid crisis and we feel that it is a healthy and necessary discussion and we hope in some way this report can save lives. Many people who overdose begin with a legitimate injury or simply do not understand the potency and deadly nature of these medications.
On a positive note we now know for certain he went painlessly and beautifully exhausted after doing what he loved the most, for one last time, performing live with his unmatchable rock band for his loyal fans on the biggest tour of his 40 plus year career. He was extremely proud of that achievement in the days before he passed.
We continue to mourn with you and marvel at Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers incredible positive impact on music and the world. And we thank you all for your love and support over the last months.
Thank you also for respecting the memory of a man who was truly great during his time on this planet both publicly and privately.
We would be grateful if you could respect the privacy of the entire Heartbreaker family during this difficult time.
Dana Petty and Adria Petty
[h/t – Rolling Stone]
[Cover photo from Petty’s Super Bowl performance]