A month or two ago, I was falling asleep and a thought flashed across my brain: Is Tom Petty still alive?
I’m usually pretty good at remembering if a famous person has died, especially one whose work has meant as much to me as Tom Petty’s. But for some reason, halfway between awake and asleep that night, my brain couldn’t return the answer. I was happy to learn he was.
Yesterday, he went into cardiac arrest. And then CBS reported that he had died, but I thought it was odd that the NYT app hadn’t sent a push notification. Then I started reading about CBS’s report being based on bad information. And then, finally, in the middle of the night, it was confirmed: Tom Petty, dead at 66.
I think today of Leonard Cohen, whose death was ultimately not so sad for me, knowing how sick he had been leading up to it. I think today of Chester Bennington, whose suicide this summer put me on the wrong side of a dark line for months.
What do I make of Tom Petty’s death? It’s a both-neither kind of moment. He wasn’t young, but his death was sudden. He wasn’t at the peak of his powers, but neither was he irrelevant. He died at a time when much of the country was, rightfully, embroiled in outrage and demand for stricter gun control, but the massacre in Las Vegas did not overshadow him.
Reports of his death turned out to be a weird little journalism hiccup—CBS broke the story based on information allegedly reported by the LAPD, which turned out to not be true. Back a month or two ago, my sleepy Googling gave me a direct answer as to whether Tom Petty was still alive; today, though the answer is different, it’s just as direct and indisputable.
For a few hours there yesterday, we couldn’t be sure.
You can read some of my further thoughts about Tom Petty over at The Young Folks.