He grew up in Gainesville, Florida and was raised Southern Baptist, but religion didn't take. "I never really liked it much," he told Mojo. "I got nothing against God. I just found way too much hypocrisy there."
Full Moon Fever (1989), was his first solo album, although members of The Heartbreakers played on it (mostly Mike Campbell, who appeared on every track). His label, MCA, initially rejected the album, telling Petty it didn't have a hit. Dejected, he formed a new group, the Traveling Wilburys, with Jeff Lynne, George Harrison, Roy Orbison and Bob Dylan. When MCA head Irving Azoff left the label, a new regime came in and decided the album was great. They were right: it had four hit singles and sold over 5 million copies in the US.
After growing frustrated with his label, MCA, Petty signed with Warner Bros. in 1989, even though he still owed MCA material. He kept the deal secret until after the 1991 album Into the Great Wide Open was released, fulfilling his commitment.
An arsonist burned his house down in 1987
. Petty, along with his wife, daughter and housekeeper, were in the house at the time but escaped largely unharmed. Petty was badly shaken by the ordeal, but managed to channel the energy into his Full Moon Fever album, taking a resilient tone in "I Won't Back Down
In 2005, he began hosting a weekly show on XM Satellite Radio called Tom Petty's Buried Treasure, where he played many of the artists who influenced him - acts like Wanda Jackson, Mose Allison and The Zombies.
Coffee and cigarettes provide sustenance for Petty; he started smoking at 17.
He steadfastly refused to let his songs be used in commercials, since that's not what he wrote them for.
He scored the 1996 movie She's the One, and has also done some acting, appearing in the 1997 movie The Postman and voicing the character Lucky on the animated TV series King of the Hill.
Petty was on the last episode of The Larry Sanders Show, a comedy about a late-night talk show starring Gary Shandling.
Fellow Gainesville resident Don Felder
, four years older than Petty, gave him guitar lessons.
He supported certain causes, but never endorsed a particular candidate. His maxim: Don't trust any politician.
Early in the morning on October 2, 2017, he was found unconscious at his home, having suffered cardiac arrest. Rushed to the hospital, he was put on life support. CBS and Rolling Stone erroneously reported his death, which was quickly retracted. His official site later confirmed that he died at 8:40 p.m. that night, surrounded by family, his bandmates and friends.
Petty's official cause of death was "resuscitated cardiopulmonary arrest" caused by an accidental overdose of painkillers. The singer was taking several medications, including Fentanyl, oxycodone, Xanax, Restoril, and Celexa. Petty's widow, Dana, and eldest daughter, Adria, said that the medical examiner informed them on January 19, 2018 of the accidental overdose.
"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," they wrote on Facebook.