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Tom Petty reveals decade of heroin addiction in new biography

on October 08, 2015, 12:12pm

As an old friend and former tourmate of Tom Petty, author Warren Zanes was granted incredible access to the rock icon for his new book, Petty: The Biography. However, despite Petty’s heavy involvement, the book is classified as “unauthorized” so that neither Petty nor any of the Heartbreaks had say over the final content.  It’s because of this freedom that Zanes was able to reveal Petty’s long-hidden heroin addiction.

According to the book, Petty was using heroin throughout the 1990s, a fact that was left out of the 2007 Heartbreakers documentary Runnin’ Down A Dream by Peter Bogdanovich. In an interview with the Washington Post, Zanes explained why Petty finally decided to divulge his addiction, and why the band kicked out one of its members for the same issues in the early 2000s.

“He’s a rock and roller,” Zanes explained. “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.” Zanes went into further detail about what drove Petty to heroin, and why he’s coming out with it now:

“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 also clarified what happened in 2002 when the Heartbreakers kicked out bassist Howie Epstein for the same addiction. Epstein died a year later, but according to Zanes, there was no hypocrisy in his firing from the band.

“Here’s the important point. The Heartbreakers sent Howie to rehab. They tried to help him. The last tour that they had Howie on, in the days prior to the tour, he was stopped by police in a stolen car with Carlene Carter with black tar heroin. And he was still on that tour. The Heartbreakers are hardly a case study in intolerance. They held on trying to keep that band together. That’s kind of the Heartbreakers code. You keep this band together. But it got untenable.”

For more of Zanes’ interview, including how he got George Harrison’s autograph while witnessing the creation of the Traveling Wilburys at Petty’s Christmas party, head to the Post.

Petty: The Biography is on shelves November 10th via Henry Holt and Co., with pre-orders going on now.