Tom Petty ‘Free Fallin’’ through the years

Tom Petty, a talented musician, songwriter, solo artist and bandmate, is gone but not forgotten. He came on the music scene in the late 1970s with his band the Heartbreakers and achieved success over 40 years.

His hard work and dedication reached the heights of the industry with hits like "American Girl," "Don't Do Me Like That," "I Won't Back Down," "Breakdown," "You Got Lucky," "Refugee," "Free Fallin," "Runnin’ Down a Dream" and a popular duet with Stevie Nicks titled "Stop Draggin’ My Heart Around." Rock stations played these songs religiously and some of them made it to television and film soundtracks, including "The Office," "Mad Love," "Cars 3" and "The Silence of the Lambs."

Richland College music professor Omar Surillo shared his thoughts on the rock icon’s legacy. “Tom Petty’s music was simple, to the point, and concise. He was a classic, old-fashioned rock ‘n’ roll artist with a unique quality of sound. His life was an inspiration coming out of Florida since most bands [out of Florida at that time] were very different like Creed, Matchbox 20, Pit Bull, Limp Bizkit and Puddle of Mudd.”

Tom Petty and Heartbreakers were inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 2002 by Bob Dylan’s son Jacob. In 2014, Petty and the Heartbreakers released the album "Hypnotic Eye” which peaked at No. 1 for the first time in his career. Their “Hypnotic” U.S. Tour supported that album. The band also completed a 40th Anniversary tour, wrapping up just before Petty died.

Petty also belonged to the 1980s “super group” The Traveling Wilburys with Bob Dylan, Roy Orbison, Jeff Lynne and George Harrison. Their success spanned two albums in 1990 and 1998, respectively, although Orbison passed away before the second one was recorded.

Bob Dylan was a close, personal friend. He took the news of Petty’s death very hard telling Rolling Stone Magazine, "It’s shocking, crushing news. I thought the world of Tom. He was a great performer, full of the light, a friend and I'll never forget him."

In 2008, Petty was calling the shots. He dropped a bombshell announcing to the Heartbreakers that he was reuniting with his very first group from the early 1970s, “Mudcrutch,” for a new album and tour.

Besides Petty’s popularity as a musician, he gained some notoriety with cameo acting appearances in a 1987 comedy called “Made in Heaven” and the 1997 action film “The Postman” with actor Kevin Costner. He had his share of misfortunes too, from record label troubles to drugs and divorce. Despite the adversities he quickly rebounded with his music depicting the difficulties in life.

Petty’s music inspired many. He was labeled a 70s rock artist because many of his hits topped the billboard charts in that era. He achieved greatness almost immediately. His four decade long legacy lives on. He will be greatly missed by fans, but not forgotten. In his own words, he will “not back down.”