How Did Tom Petty Die? The Details Behind His Shocking Death

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It’s fair to say that Tom Petty is one of the great American songwriters. Leader of the 2002 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductees Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, he had iconic hits throughout the 70s, 80s, 90s, and beyond, from “Refugee” to “Don’t Come Around Here No More” to “Free Fallin'” and “You Don’t Know How It Feels.”

Unfortunately, Tom Petty’s life came to an end far too soon. How did Tom Petty die? Were the drugs responsible prescription drugs, or did he have a substance abuse problem? Find out that and more below. 

How Did Tom Petty Die?

Tom Petty’s cause of death is officially an accidental drug overdose, although it took a few months to come to that conclusion. 

When it was announced that the “Learning to Fly” singer was found unconscious and in cardiac arrest in the early hours of October 2, premature reports of his death kept coming throughout the day, although he was not officially declared deceased until approximately 8:40 p.m. 

Part of the confusion surrounding Petty’s death came from the mass shooting in Las Vegas that occurred just hours before, the deadliest mass shooting in U.S. history by an individual, leaving 58 deceased individuals and several more injured. The confusion amongst fans even reached fellow celebrities as names like Bob Dylan, Kid Rock, Courtney Love, Cyndi Lauper, and Lin-Manuel Miranda all posted to social media, expressing their sadness soon after. They had no idea that their sorrow was premature.  

The initial announcement of his death was eventually retracted, with it only to be confirmed again and correctly later that day that he had indeed passed away. 

Tom Petty’s cause of death was officially announced on January 19, 2018. According to the Los Angeles County Medical Examiner, Tommy Petty’s death resulted from “multisystem organ failure due to resuscitated cardiopulmonary arrest due to mixed drug toxicity.” 

Among the drugs detected in his system were multiple opioids, including fentanyl, oxycodone, and acetyl fentanyl; two sedatives, including alprazolam and temazepam; and the citalopram anti-depressant. 

Related: 25 Singers Who Overdosed

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When Did Tom Petty Die?

Tom Petty passed away on October 2, 2017

The “American Girl” hitmaker was survived by his second wife, Dana York. He was also survived by his daughters, Adria and Annakim, from his first marriage to Jane Benyo, and his stepson, Dylan, from his marriage to York. 

How Old was Tom Petty When He Died?

At the time of his death, Tom Petty was 66 years old, just a few weeks shy of his 67th birthday. 

Where is Tom Petty Buried?

Prior to Tom Petty’s funeral, he was cremated with his ashes being given to his family. 

Tom Petty’s funeral service was held on October 16, 2017, in Pacific Palisades, Los Angeles, at the Self-Realization Fellowship Lake Shrine. He was not the first rock star to have his funeral held at the Shrine. George Harrison of the Beatles had his funeral held there in 2001. 

Tom Petty’s funeral was a private affair, but photos were shared by his daughter, Annakim Violette Petty, on Instagram. 

It is believed that his ashes were then buried at the Shrine, but it is not entirely clear. 

Related: How Did John Lennon Die?

Who Inherited Tom Petty’s Money?

The question of Tom Petty’s estate resulted in a lengthy legal battle between the singer’s widow and second wife, Dana York Petty, and Tom Petty’s children from his first marriage. 

Who runs Tom Petty’s estate? The estate plan in Tom Petty’s will, however, gave control to his wife, naming her as the sole trustee. This included the publishing rights to his music catalog. His daughters, however, were supposed to be allowed input in how Tom Petty’s estate was to be managed. 

Following the $5 million lawsuit filed by his daughters against their stepmother, who also countersued, an agreement was finally made. 

“We are pleased to announce the formation of Tom Petty Legacy LLC to manage all aspects of Tom’s legacy,” according to a joint statement from the three women. “We are committed to honoring Tom’s voice, music, integrity, and his charitable spirit.” 

“Each member of the family will have equal standing in Tom Petty Legacy LLC and will work together on all future endeavors,” it also noted. “The business will build upon Tom’s 40+ years of great music and his historic career.” 

The statement also said that the three “have resolved their differences and dismissed all litigation matters that had been filed related to Tom’s estate. Each of them sincerely regrets that in their intense grief over Tom’s tragic death, actions were taken that were hurtful to one another.” 

The intent of Tom Petty’s will has been resolved at last. 

The ordeal ultimately stemmed from the two posthumous releases – Tom Petty: An American Treasure and Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers: The Best of Everything

What Were Tom Petty’s Last Words?

While we don’t know what Tom Petty’s last words ultimately were, we do know what the 2017 MusiCares Person of the Year’s final words were to his fans. They came during the final show of the Tommy Petty and the Heartbreakers’ 40th anniversary tour

He said simply, “We love you dearly. I want to thank you for 40 years of a really great time. We’re almost out of time, we got time for this right here,” he said as he began to play the band’s hit song “American Girl.” “Thank you so much. God bless you. Good night.” 

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What Was Tom Petty’s Net Worth When He Died?

At the time of Tom Petty’s death, he had an approximate net worth of $95 million. This is thanks to the “I Won’t Back Down” singer’s overwhelming popularity throughout his career with Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers and beyond, with his shows continuing to sell out, including those surrounding his untimely death. 

Related: 42 Best Tom Petty Songs: The Ultimate Ranking

Did Stevie Nicks Have a Relationship with Tom Petty?

Despite rumors to the contrary, Stevie Nicks and Tom Petty were never involved in a romantic relationship. 

Instead, Stevie Nicks and Tom Petty were the epitome of a sibling relationship in the entertainment business, and it was a relationship that went back nearly four decades together. 

The pair collaborated many times over the years, playing shows together and performing multiple duets. Their final performance came just months before Tom Petty’s death. 

The special performance was held on July 9, 2017, at London’s Hyde Park, for which they sang their beloved 1981 hit, “Stop Draggin’ My Heart Around.” 

Nicks was one of many who had a heartbreaking reaction to Petty’s shocking death. 

“The loss of Tom Petty has just about broken my heart,” Nicks said. “He was not only a good man to go down the river with, as Johnny Cash said, he was a great father and he was a great friend. He was one of my best friends. My heart will never get over this.”

She further expressed regret at his will to keep going on the Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers’ 40th-anniversary tour, even when he was ill. 

“He should’ve canceled, and he should’ve just gone home and gone to the hospital. But not Tom. He was gonna go down that river. And so, God bless him, he finished his tour at the Hollywood Bowl,” she said. “Three shows. And one week later, he died — but he got down the river. So, Tom, I know you’re standing next to me ’cause you always have been for so many years.”

Related: 14 Best Stevie Nicks Songs

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What Illnesses Did Tom Petty Have?

Although drugs were the ultimate cause of death for Tom Petty, his wife and daughter noted his multiple health issues in a statement on his website after his death. 

Among the medical problems noted were emphysema, knee problems, and a fractured hip, suggesting that he dealt with a lot of chronic pain that possibly grew into him having an opioid dependence to try and help. 

He reportedly was prescribed pain medication for some of these problems. “It is our feeling that the pain was simply unbearable and was the cause for his overuse of medication,” the statement read. “We feel confident that this was, as the coroner found, an unfortunate accident.” 

Several months later, in an interview with Billboard on September 23, 2018, Tom Petty’s wife said that he continually put off hip surgery even though it was recommended by doctors. “He’d had it in mind it was his last tour, and he owed it to his long-time crew, from decades some of them, and his fans.” 

She added, “He had those three shows in L.A. Never had he been so proud of himself, so happy, so looking forward to the future – and then he’s gone.” 

How Many Guitars Did Tom Petty Own?

Tom Petty owned several notable guitars over the course of his career. His signature was his sunburst 1964 Fender Stratocaster, which he used from 1976 to 1982. 

From 1979 on, he also used Rickenbacker guitars. In particular, his Rickenbacker 660/12TP, which he used from 1991 to 1997, had a neck that Petty himself designed and featured his signature. 

His other most-used guitars over the years were his Fender Telecasters and Guild D25 12-string acoustic guitar. 


Tom Petty is yet another example of a beloved musician gone too soon and for a reason that may have been entirely avoidable had circumstances been different. Drugs, whether they are prescription drugs or not, should always be used with caution because overdoses, even accidental ones, are more common than many might think. 

Talk to doctors and be aware of the risks. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the National Institute on Drug Abuse have several resources available about all kinds of drugs and proper drug use. Learn the signs of opiate overdose and opioid addiction, addiction treatment, the proper use of painkiller pills, and more. 

There are also materials on when to seek emergency medical attention for expected overdoses, drug poisoning, or other life-threatening conditions related to drugs and other substances. 

Tom Petty taught us a lot about life through his songs. Let’s take one more lesson from his unfortunate death. 

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Written by Katie Peterson

Katie Peterson received her bachelor's degree in English from the University of Saint Mary in Leavenworth in 2015. She has worked in journalism since 2015, beginning as production assistant and eventual head staff writer of the Fort Leavenworth Lamp newspaper in Fort Leavenworth, Kansas. Currently, she is a multimedia journalist with the Diocese of Nashville's Office of Media and Evangelization where she writes, does photography, and edits for several types of content, including the Tennessee Register, Catholic Awakenings, and She has also worked as a freelance journalist with the Archdiocese of Kansas City in Kansas's newspaper, The Leaven, since 2016.
In her spare time, Peterson enjoys reading, spending time with her pup, Sadie Lynn, singing and songwriting.


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