How Tom Petty Overcame an Abusive Childhood, Heartbreaking Divorce and Heroin Addiction to Find True Love

The star overcame an abusive childhood, volatile marriage and heroin addiction

After 40 years in the music industry, Tom Petty consistently stayed at the top of the charts.

Breaking through in 1979 with “Don’t Do Me Like That” and “Refugee” (his album Damn the Torpedoes peaked at number two on the Billboard 200 albums chart), the musical icon — who died Monday evening — reached number one in 2014 with his most recent album Hypnotic Eye.

But while his success never faltered, the “Free Fallin'” singer’s personal life wasn’t quite as smooth sailing. From suffering abuse as a child to going through a difficult divorce and subsequent addiction to heroin, Petty, 66, fought through intense personal troubles to find ultimate happiness with his second wife Dana York.


Raised in Gainesville, Florida, Petty opened up about suffering abuse at the hands of his father in Petty: The Biography, written by his friend and fellow rocker Warren Zanes.

“When my father got home…he came in, took a belt and beat the living s— out of me. He beat me so bad that I was covered in raised welts, from my head to my toes. I mean, you can’t imagine someone hitting a child like that. My mother and grandmother laid me in my bed, stripped me and they took cotton and alcohol, cleaning these big welts all over my body.”


Before he found fame, Petty married his longtime friend Jane Benyo in 1974. The duo’s 22-year marriage was filled with drama that stemmed from mental illness, drug use and the singer’s booming career.

Five years before they divorced, Petty told Rolling Stone he was still “very much in love” with Benyo. “There were times when we definitely were not getting along, when we fought like f—ing Apaches, you know. I’m lucky they still let me live in this neighborhood,” he told the outlet.

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However, the couple could not work through their issues and split for good in 1996. “I was used to living in hell. My parents’ marriage was hell. I lived through being terribly abused as a kid, and then I found myself in an abusive marriage,” he recalled to Zanes.


After Petty and Benyo divorced, the star reconnected with his future wife Dana York, whom he had met years earlier at a concert.

Though the couple fell in love, Petty was struggling with a secret heroin addiction.

“You start losing your soul,” he told Zanes. “You realize one day, ‘S—, I’ve lost myself. I’m hanging out with people I wouldn’t be seen with in a million years, and I have to get out of this.'”

“Using heroin went against my grain. I didn’t want to be enslaved to anything. So I was always trying to figure out how to do less, and then that wouldn’t work. Tried to go cold turkey, and that wouldn’t work. It’s an ugly f—ing thing.”

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After undergoing treatment for addiction, York and Petty wed in 2001. Settling in Malibu, Petty still worked on music but made an effort to focus more time on his family, including his two daughters, Adria and AnnaKim, and stepson Dylan.

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“The only good thing about getting older is you get smart enough to avoid unnecessary problems,” he told Billboard in 2014. “You know what’s worth spending time on and what’s not. If I had known that at 20, life would have been so much easier, but you have to experience all these things so you figure out how to find your way through the woods.”

Before embarking on his final tour earlier this year with the Heartbreakers, Petty told Rolling Stone it would likely be his last “big” tour.

“I’m thinking it may be the last trip around the country,” he said. “We’re all on the backside of our 60s. I have a granddaughter now I’d like to see as much as I can. I don’t want to spend my life on the road.”

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