RIP Tom Petty. On October 2, 2017, the legendary rock musician passed away after suffering cardiac arrest. To many people, he was a solo artist who brought hits such as “Free Fallin’” and “Runnin’ Down a Dream” into the world. To others, he is remembered as a human being who overcame great trials — including a painful divorce and a heroin addiction — to eventually find true love. This is his story.
Petty was born in Florida in 1950. Particularly in his later years, he was quite open about the suffering he endured as a child. Once the book Petty: The Biography, which was written by his friend and fellow rocker Warren Zanes, was published, the extent to which he was abused became clear, however.
In one section, Petty recalled: “When my father got home…he came in, took a belt and beat the living s— out of me. He beat me so bad that I was covered in raised welts, from my head to my toes. I mean, you can’t imagine someone hitting a child like that. My mother and grandmother laid me in my bed, stripped me and they took cotton and alcohol, cleaning these big welts all over my body.”
In his early twenties, before Petty found fame, he married his longtime friend Jane Benyo. They shared “I do’s” in 1974, and were married for 22 years. Their romance was anything close to fairytale-like, though.
According to People, their marriage was filled with “drama that stemmed from mental illness, drug use and the singer’s booming career.” They changed, and not together. This wreaked havoc on their relationship and, ultimately, their marriage.
In an interview with Rolling Stone — five years before they divorced, Petty said he was “very much in love” with Benyo. He said, “There were times when we definitely were not getting along, when we fought like f—ing Apaches, you know. I’m lucky they still let me live in this neighborhood.” But it wasn’t enough.
In 1996, the couple split for good. “I was used to living in hell. My parents’ marriage was hell. I lived through being terribly abused as a kid, and then I found myself in an abusive marriage,” Petty told Zanes.
After officially separating with Benyo, Petty reconnected with Dana York, a woman he had met years earlier at a concert. She would eventually become his future wife. There was only one problem: York was secretly hooked on heroin.
They fell madly in love before Petty found out. He told Zanes, “You start losing your soul. You realize one day, ‘S—, I’ve lost myself. I’m hanging out with people I wouldn’t be seen with in a million years, and I have to get out of this.’”
Fortunately, the rocker was strong. He recognized that heroin was against everything he stood for. He recalled, “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 f—ing thing.”
Finding True Love
After checking into rehabilitation for addiction, York and Petty transitioned themselves off the substance. They were later wed in 2001. For years, the happy couple lived in Malibu, Florida, where Petty continued to work on his music. The get-away also allowed him to focus on his family, including his two daughters, Adria and AnnaKim, and his stepson Dylan.
In 2014, he told Billboard: “The only good thing about getting older is you get smart enough to avoid unnecessary problems. You know what’s worth spending time on and what’s not. If I had known that at 20, life would have been so much easier, but you have to experience all these things so you figure out how to find your way through the woods.”
Petty overcame so much and finally realized the value of clean living and family. Though his loss is being felt by millions, it’s heartening to know that at the very least, he was happy before transitioning.
I am Luke Miller, content manager at Truth Theory and creator of Potential For Change. I like to blend psychology and spirituality to help you create more happiness in your life.Grab a copy of my free 33 Page Illustrated eBook- Psychology Meets Spirituality- Secrets To A Supercharged Life You Control Here