After months of speculation, a medical examiner has ruled that Tom Petty died of an accidental overdose, according to a statement from the Los Angeles County Medical Examiner. The Hall of Fame musician had taken several pain medications, including Fentanyl, oxycodone and generic Xanax. Other medications included generic Restoril (a sleep aid) and generic Celexa (which treats depression).
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 been prescribed the drugs to treat emphysema, knee issues and a fractured hip, his family said in a statement accompanying the results. Petty’s coronary artery disease had been a persistent problem throughout his final tour.
“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,” Petty’s wife Dana and daughter Adria wrote in the 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 overuse of medication.”
Petty was found unconscious and not breathing at his Malibu home on October 2nd. He was rushed to a hospital where he was placed on life support. Although he had a pulse, doctors found no brain activity when he arrived and the decision was made to pull life support. He died hours later.
The singer had recently completed a 40th anniversary tour with his band, the Heartbreakers. It was intended to be his “last trip around the country,” though he told Rolling Stone he wasn’t going to stop playing. “I need something to do, or I tend to be a nuisance around the house,” he said.
Petty said he’d experimented with cocaine over the years (“[It] was never a good look,” he told Men’s Journal) and drinking (“I didn’t like the taste or the buzz,” he said). But it was in the late Nineties, when he was in his late 40s and two decades after he’d become a superstar, that he developed an addiction to heroinafter a bitter divorce from his first wife. “Tried to go cold turkey, and that wouldn’t work,” he said in author Warren Zanes’ book Petty: The Biography. “It’s an ugly fucking thing.” He sought out treatment for his addiction and remarried in 2001.
“Using heroin went against my grain,” Petty said in the book. “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.”
Since his death, several artists have paid tribute to Petty onstage. Country artist Jason Aldean dedicated some of his time as the musical guest on Saturday Night Live to sing “I Won’t Back Down.” Bob Dylan performed Petty’s “Learning to Fly” at a concert in Broomfield, Colorado. And Dave Matthews, Emmylou Harris and others sang “Refugee” at a benefit show in Seattle. Petty’s Greatest Hits album subsequently made it to the Number Two spot on the Billboard chart after his death.
He was laid to rest on October 16th at a private service in Pacific Palisades, California.
Petty’s family said they hope the musician’s death leads to a broader understanding of the opioid crisis. “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,” they wrote. “Many people who overdose begin with a legitimate injury or simply do not understand the potency and deadly nature of these medications.”
Full Statement from Dana and Adria Petty
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.
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