Tom Petty reveals ’90s heroin addiction in new biography

It is the first time the musician has spoken publicly about his addiction

Tom Petty has discussed his addiction to heroin in the ’90s in the new biography Petty: The Biography.

Written by Warren Zanes, the biography details Petty’s drug use and is the first time the musician has spoken publicly about his addiction.

Though the biography is ‘unauthorised’, it has Petty’s full backing and was written following extensive interviews with the American singer-songwriter and leader of Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers.


Speaking to The Washington Post, Zanes discussed the revelations from Petty and explained why the biography remained unofficial.


“He didn’t want it to be authorized because he felt like authorized meant bull,” Zanes said. “He said, ‘I want it to be yours. And I can’t tell you what you can and can’t write.'”

Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers released their debut album in 1976. By the ’90s the band were on their eighth record, releasing ‘Into The Great Wide Open’ in 1991. Asked how Petty became addicted to heroin relatively late in his career, when he was 50 years old, Zanes replied:

“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.”

“Tom Petty is a man who lived the bulk of his life in the album cycle,” he continued. “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 concerned the revelation about his drug use would set a bad example to young fans. “If anyone is going to think heroin is an option because they know my story of using heroin, I can’t do this,” he told Zanes. “I think you’re going to come off as a cautionary tale rather than a romantic tale,” Zanes replied.


The writer was also quizzed on why Tom Petty and the band asked bandmate Howie Epstein to leave the group in the early 2000s for his heroin use. Asked whether it was hypocritical of Petty, particularly now fans are aware he also used the drug, Zanes replied:

“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.”