Tom Petty Admits Being a Heroin Addict During ‘90s

By Zachary Siegel 10/07/15

Writer and musician Warren Zanes' new book Petty: The Biography comes out next month.

Tom Petty

Writer and musician Warren Zanes has a new biography on Tom Petty called, Petty: The Biography, which comes out next month. According to Zanes, “[Petty] said, ‘I want it to be yours. And I can’t tell you what you can and can’t write.’"

Zanes, who was granted unprecedented full access, documents for the first time Petty’s heroin addiction. In an interview with the Washington Post, Zanes was asked of Petty: “How does a 50-year-old become a junkie?”

His response was, “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’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.”

Petty described his reticence to go public with his heroin addiction. “The first thing he said to me on the subject,” said Zanes, “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.’”

Zanes also discussed Howie Epstein of the Heartbreakers, who left the band because of his heroin addiction and died soon after. Geoff Edgers, the Washington Post interviewer, asked if there was anything hypocritical about Epstein being kicked out for his heroin addiction while Petty was addicted. 

“The Heartbreakers sent Howie to rehab. They tried to help him,” Zanes said. "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."

There is a lot more to Petty than his drug addiction. Zanes wanted to capture Petty’s unyielding work ethic, all the songs written, records recorded, the touring, and Petty’s role as being the leader of the pack.

In the end, Zanes told Petty that his drug addiction would read as more of a cautionary tale than one of romance and glory.

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Zachary Siegel is a freelance journalist specializing in science, health and drug policy. His reporting has also appeared in Slate, The Daily Beast, Salon, Huffington Post, among others. He writes often about addiction, sometimes drawing from his own experience. You can find out more about Zachary on Linkedin or follow him on Twitter.