Published Oct 08, 2015Here's something that even Tom Petty's most devoted followers probably didn't know about the classic heartland rocker: he was a heroin addict in the '90s. This information has come to light thanks to Petty: The Biography, a new book by the songwriter's friend Warren Zanes.
Petty had previously hidden this fact, ensuring that it was omitted from other accounts about the band. Zanes was able to talk about it because his book is unauthorized, and Petty didn't have a say regarding its content; that being said, it seems that the singer did give the writer permission to write about it. Petty advocated keeping the book "unauthorized" to preserve its honesty.
Zanes told the Washington Post:
The first thing he said to me on the subject is "I am very concerned that talking about this is putting a bad example out there for young people. If anyone is going to think heroin is an option because they know my story of using heroin, I can't do this." And I just had to work with him and say, "I think you're going to come off as a cautionary tale rather than a romantic tale." But I wanted to show that Tom Petty is a man who lived the bulk of his life in the album cycle. He wrote songs, they recorded those songs, they put a record together with artwork, they released it, and they went out on the road to support it. Over and over and over and over and over. And he, being the leader of the band, had to do most of the work around it. I think he was invested in being caught in that cycle in part because there was so much movement in it all that the trouble from his past was kept at bay. But then, when he left his marriage and moved into a house, by himself, things slowed just long enough that all of that past came right as he's coming into the pain of not being able to control the well-being of his kids and not being able to control a dialogue with his ex-wife. The classic situation of midlife pinning a person down to the mat.
Zanes explained that Petty was drawn to heroin because, as a rock star, many of his peers had used the drug as an escape from personal pain. The writer said:
That happens when the pain becomes too much and you live in a world, in a culture, where people have reached in the direction of heroin to stop the pain. He's a rock and roller. He had had encounters with people who did heroin, and he hit a point in his life when he did not know what to do with the pain he was feeling.
Despite battling heroin addiction in the '90s, Petty had some successful hits that decade including "Learning to Fly," "Mary Jane's Last Dance" and "You Don't Know How It Feels."
We can learn more about Petty's ups and downs when Petty: The Biography is released through Henry Holt and Company on November 10.