Tom Petty is widely regarded as one of the finest singer-songwriters that America has ever produced. The late heartland rocker sold an astonishing 80 million records worldwide as a solo artist, as the frontman of The Heartbreakers and as a member of the supergroup The Traveling Wilburys. However, his musical legacy is sadly now in danger of being tarnished. And his surviving family are arguably at fault.
Multiple Grammy winner Petty left the music world in mourning when he passed away from an accidental overdose in 2017 at the age of 66. He also left behind a wife, Dana, and two children from a previous marriage, Adria and Annakim. But sadly, his nearest and dearest have become embroiled in a bitter feud which has already affected the handling of Petty’s back catalog.
And this family fallout shows no signs of being resolved any time soon. In fact, it only seems to be getting uglier. Here’s a look at why the stepmother and two stepdaughters have had to take their grievances to the courtroom and how they’re in danger of going against the wishes of the man they all loved.
Tom Petty began his journey to rock and roll greatness aged just ten when he met Elvis Presley on the set of Follow That Dream. The Florida native subsequently developed a huge passion for music. And he was similarly inspired after watching The Beatles take to the stage of The Ed Sullivan Show. Indeed, it was the Fab Four’s performance that made Petty realize he wanted to form a band, he told TV station Fox News back in 2006.
In fact, Petty actually ended up leaving high school aged 17 to pursue his musical dreams. Utilizing the guitar skills he’d been taught by future Eagles member Don Felder, the star joined forces with the likes of Benmont Tench and Mike Campbell to found The Epics. Later renamed Mudcrutch, Petty’s first band failed to make any notable impression, and by the end of 1975 it had split up.
Undeterred, Petty reunited with Tench and Campbell to form another outfit. Recorded under the guise of Tom Petty and The Heartbreakers, the band’s self-titled debut LP hit the shelves in 1978 and spawned a U.S. Top 40 single, “Breakdown.” Sophomore You’re Gonna Get It! fared even better but it was 1979’s Damn the Torpedos that truly put the group on the map.
Petty and co. continued their winning streak into the 1980s. Like its predecessor, fourth LP Hard Promises also reached the upper reaches of the Billboard 200. 1985’s Southern Accents was supported by a triumphant set at the Philadelphia leg of Live Aid. And the band became an MTV favorite thanks to inventive promos for tracks such as “Don’t Come Around Here No More.”
In the late 1980s, Petty formed a long-standing working relationship with Bob Dylan. After hitting the road together for the True Confessions tour, the pair also co-wrote The Heartbreakers’ hit “Jammin’ Me.” And then Petty joined forces with Roy Orbison, Jeff Lynne and George Harrison to form supergroup The Traveling Wilburys.
Essentially released as a solo album in 1989, Full Moon Fever proved to be Petty’s commercial peak. It spawned two massive hit singles in the shape of “Free Fallin’” and “I Won’t Back Down.” And it also picked up a coveted Album of the Year nomination at the Grammy Awards. 1991’s Into the Great Wide Open and a diamond-selling Greatest Hits package then reminded everyone of Petty and the Heartbreakers’ special musical connection.
After releasing his second solo effort, Wildflowers, in 1994, Petty reunited with the Heartbreakers to record the soundtrack to rom-com movie drama She’s the One. The band later added to their catalog with the Rick Rubin-produced Echo, the scathing music industry denunciation that was The Last DJ and the blues-inspired Mojo. In 2006, they celebrated their 30th anniversary with a headline appearance at Bonnaroo.
Petty also resumed his solo career in the mid-‘00s with Saving Grace and recorded an album with his short-lived 1970s outfit Mudcrutch. Alongside the Heartbreakers, he performed at the 2008 Super Bowl half-time show and toured with Steve Winwood. In 2014, Petty and the Heartbreakers scored their first ever U.S. number one album with Hypnotic Eye.
Of course, Petty also enjoyed moonlighting as an actor. He made his film debut with a minor role in 1978 radio station comedy FM and later appeared in Made in Heaven and The Postman. He also guested several times on It’s Garry Shandling’s Show and lent his voice to The Simpsons and King of the Hill, playing Elroy “Lucky” Kleinschmidt in the latter.
But music always remained Petty’s main love. And in 2017 he once again hit the road with the Heartbreakers for a nationwide tour to commemorate their 40th anniversary. Sadly, its concluding date at California’s Hollywood Bowl would prove to be their last ever performance.
Indeed, just a week later, Petty’s unresponsive body was found at his California home and taken to Santa Monica’s UCLA Medical Center. After much confusion caused by various news organizations jumping the gun, the legendary singer-songwriter was officially declared dead later that same day. An L.A. coroner later confirmed that Petty had passed away due to an accidental drug overdose.
Petty had previously struggled with substance abuse issues, namely heroin, back in the late 1990s. However, he managed to keep his addiction to the drug a secret from the public until he revealed all in a 2015 biography penned by long-time pal Warren Zanes. Petty eventually managed to get clean just in time for his Echo tour with the Heartbreakers in 1999.
Petty’s wife, Dana, and daughters, Adria and Annakim, released a statement in which they explained how the fatal overdose occurred. Referring to the star’s various medical issues including a fractured hip and emphysema, it read, “[It] is our feeling that the pain was simply unbearable and was the cause for his overuse of medication… We feel confident that this was, as the coroner found, an unfortunate accident.”
Dana also gave an interview to Billboard magazine in 2018 in which she revealed that her husband was in extremely good spirits before that fateful day. She said, “He had those three shows in L.A. and the day before he died he was pounding his chest going, ‘I’m on top of the world!’ Never had he been so proud of himself, so happy, so looking forward to the future – and then he’s gone.”
However, Dana also confirmed that Petty was planning to give up life on the road due to his various health problems. She told Billboard, “That’s why he wouldn’t go to the hospital when his hip broke. He’d had it in mind it was his last tour and he owed it to his long-time crew, from decades some of them, and his fans.”
Dana York, of course, was Petty’s second wife. The star first walked down the aisle in 1974 with Jane Benyo, the mother of his two children, director Adria and artist Annakim. Sadly, the pair’s relationship ended in divorce 22 years later. In 2001 Petty married York and became stepfather to her son from a previous marriage, Dylan.
Of course, Petty was renowned for both protecting his material and fighting for his creative freedom. In the late 1970s he became embroiled in a record company dispute after MCA Records bought the label he was signed with, ABC Records. Petty didn’t like the idea of being automatically moved to a new home without his approval.
Two years later Petty stuck up for his fans when he rallied against the $1 price increase that MCA had planned for his band’s new album, Hard Promises. The record label backed down after the star used various clever bargaining tactics. Not only did he threaten not to deliver the record, he also toyed with the idea of calling it his preferred price of Eight Ninety-Eight.
In 1987 B.F. Goodrich also found out to their cost that you don’t mess with Petty. An advertising company hired by the national tire firm had initially wanted to use “Mary’s New Car” for a new commercial. But when Petty refused to allow them, the agency simply recorded a soundalike. Not one to take things lying down, Petty filed a $1 million lawsuit which later resulted in an out-of-court settlement.
However, Petty wasn’t always so trigger-happy when it comes to accusations of plagiarism. In 2006, “Dani California”, the lead single from Red Hot Chili Peppers’ Stadium Arcadium, was accused of heavily borrowing from “Mary Jane’s Last Dance”. But Petty told Rolling Stone magazine in 2010, “I seriously doubt that there is any negative intent there. And a lot of rock ‘n’ roll songs sound alike.”
Nine years on, another Petty song, “I Won’t Back Down”, appeared to have inspired another chart hit. This time around, the writers of Sam Smith’s “Stay With Me” held their hands up and gave Petty and co-writer Jeff Lynne a 12.5 percent royalty share. But once again, Petty was relatively understanding about the matter, remarking to Rolling Stone in 2015, “All my years of songwriting have shown me these things can happen.”
Petty may have been hugely protective about his musical legacy. But sadly, since his untimely death, his warring family members have risked tarnishing it. Indeed, daughters Annakim and Adria and wife Dana soon became embroiled in a major feud over how Petty’s music should be treated.
The drama began in April 2019, when both Dana and her two stepdaughters filed separate petitions regarding Petty’s estate. The former insisted that she should acquire full control and announced plans to put her late husband’s music under the care of a professional manager. However, Annakim and Adria also claimed that they were also entitled to have a say.
In fact, just a month later the two sisters filed a new lawsuit which saw them vie for a 66 percent majority share of the estate. In an official statement, their attorney Alex Weingarten said, “Tom Petty wanted his music and his legacy to be controlled equally by his daughters, Adria and Annakim, and his wife, Dana. Dana has refused Tom’s express wishes and insisted instead upon misappropriating Tom’s life’s work for her own selfish interests.”
Weingarten then stuck the knife in further. He added, “After countless efforts to resolve this matter amicably and out of court, we could no longer stand idly by and watch Dana disrespect Tom’s wishes, his music and his legacy.” Of course, this was only one side of the story.
Dana’s lawyer Adam Streisand soon fought back on his client’s behalf. He told Variety magazine, “This misguided and meritless lawsuit sadly demonstrates exactly why Tom Petty designated his wife to be the sole trustee with authority to manage his estate. Dana will not allow destructive nonsense like this to distract her from protecting her husband’s legacy.”
But things appear to have turned ugly when Annakim and Adria prevented their stepmother from releasing a collection of previously-unheard material. Dana was hoping to include several Petty tracks recorded in the early 1990s on a 25th-anniversary edition of his second solo effort, Wildflowers.
However, uncomfortable with the planned album’s timing, Adria reportedly blocked its release. Petty’s oldest daughter was also accused by Dana of insulting her father’s former bandmates. And a leaked email showed just how strongly Adria felt about taking control of Petty’s estate.
Addressed to Mike Campbell and Benmont Tench, two of the founding members of The Heartbreakers, the email read, “What I don’t have the temperament for is having my entire life raped. Being disparaged. My dad being disgraced. I am sorry I am not a man and can not earn your respect through the work and deeds I do.”
Unlike the 25th anniversary edition of Wallflowers, a four-volume Petty compilation named An American Treasure did manage to make it to the shelves. However, this also caused some almighty friction between Dana and her two stepdaughters. Adria, in particular, was enraged when she learned what its cover art would be.
In a furious text message, Adria reportedly told Dana, “You have no compassion for how much this project is my tribute to him. You have allowed me no other way to grieve… you are acting like a jerk in front of my friends and undermining me… You are a very selfish and unkind woman. We can make this legal if you want. Say the word.”
And it’s not just Petty’s music that is causing all the bitterness either. Indeed, there was also a row regarding plans to rename a park in Florida after the legendary singer-songwriter in his Gainesville hometown. More specifically, it revolved around the artwork of the park sign.
In fact, Adria was allegedly furious when a representative for her father’s estate submitted the cover of a Petty LP for the sign. She reportedly told the rep in question, “Your name is not Petty and you don’t have the backbone to protect the estate from a horrible image like this one. Shame on you.”
In May 2019 Dana then filed another appeal in which she made several other allegations about her stepdaughters. In fact, she even described Adria as unhinged in court documents which also accused her of cashing in on Petty’s legacy. Indeed, Dana took particular umbrage with Adria’s plans to launch a new salad dressing range using her father’s name and image.
Adria reportedly wanted to turn her father into a Paul Newman-esque figure whose famous name could be used to sell various products. But in an official statement, Dana’s attorney said, “Tom would never have permitted such a thing; he never ‘sold out’ while he was alive and refused to do any such thing despite numerous opportunities. Dana is certain Tom’s fans would also find it a sad perversion of Tom’s legacy.”
These two statements of defiance were in stark contrast to the rather diplomatic and hopeful interview that Adria had given to Rolling Stone a month earlier. She had told the iconic magazine, “We’re trying to figure out how to work with everybody’s advisors and lawyers. We all love each other and we all work pretty great together when we speak directly to each other.”
Adria went on to add, “It’s been a difficult time. But I’ve seen remarkable changes in my family in the best of ways because of this, and I’ve seen a lot of catharsis and healing in the last 16 months. I have no doubt in my mind everything is going to work out.”