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Tom Petty Was Addicted to Heroin in the ’90s, Claims New Book

Kevin Winter, Getty Images
Kevin Winter, Getty Images

A new book about Tom Petty claims that the artist was addicted to heroin in the ’90s. And the author of the unauthorized biography says that Petty is okay with that information finally going public.

In an interview with The Washington Post, Warren Zanes, who played in the band the Del Fuegos, who opened for Petty and the Heartbreakers in 1987, says that the singer-songwriter pretty much endorses Petty: The Biography, which will be published next month. “He didn’t want it to be authorized, because he felt like authorized meant bulls—,” said Zanes. “He said, ‘I want it to be yours. And I can’t tell you what you can and can’t write.’”

That opened the door to the topic of Petty’s heroin addiction, a revelation that very few people even knew about (the 2007 movie Runnin’ Down a Dream originally included scenes discussing this, but Petty had them cut out before it was released). Zanes says that Petty was tentative about including this information at first.

“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,’” he recalled.

Zanes has a theory as to why Petty became addicted to the drug when he was in 40s. “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 said. “He’s a rock ‘n’ 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.”

Part of this had to do with Petty’s divorce at the time, recalled Zanes. Plus, bassist Howie Epstein, who died of a heroin overdose in 2003, was addicted during the same period. It all led to a turbulent period for the singer. “The classic situation of midlife pinning a person down to the mat,” said Zanes.

Petty: The Biography comes out on Nov. 10, and right now it looks like it may be the only new Petty release to arrive before the holidays. A collection of unreleased songs from his 1994 Wildflowers sessions was scheduled to be released before the end of the year, but after giving fans a sneak peek at one of the tracks back in June, no additional information has surfaced.

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