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The entertainment world was shaken by the news of singer Tom Petty’s sudden death on Monday, Oct. 2, with many sharing their love and admiration for the revolutionary rocker who redefined the ’70s music landscape and went on to be a powerfully prolific, award-winning artist. But while his loss is felt deeply by the music industry and his fans, his death will undoubtedly be felt the most by the family he leaves behind.
His first wife, Jane Benyo
Petty was married for 22 years to Jane Benyo, from March of 1974 to September 1996 — practically a millennium by celebrity standards. The two were childhood sweethearts who started dating when they were 17 and lived together in Gainesville, Fla. But when Petty decided he wanted to pursue his dreams of rock ’n’ roll stardom by moving to Hollywood, Benyo insisted they get married — so they did. According to Warren Zanes’s book, Petty: The Biography, Petty didn’t want to marry Benyo, but did so when his mother urged him to “do the right thing.”
As Petty’s star began to rise, it created complications in his marriage. With Petty on the road so much, Benyo was often home alone with their two young daughters. She turned to alcohol and drugs to ease her loneliness and isolation. Eventually Benyo’s problems dovetailed into issues with mental illness; her marriage to Petty had grown increasingly volatile, with reports of verbal abuse toward Petty and their two daughters.
Petty reportedly knew he was going to leave his marriage in 1984, but the two didn’t divorce until September 1996.
His first daughter, Adria Petty
Petty’s oldest daughter, Adria, is a driven and talented director, editor, and artist, who has created music videos for everyone from Beyoncé to Regina Spektor to Coldplay and Rihanna to Kings of Leon, as well as, of course, her dad’s band, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers. The 42-year-old has also worked with corporate clients such as Target, Hershey’s, and McDonald’s on visual campaigns across multiple mediums.
After attending Tisch School of the Arts, Adria worked as an assistant to directors such as Penny Marshall and Jonathan Demme, while also working on visual art installations before transitioning into her own directing career. In addition to directing music videos, she created tour visuals for the Who, led a rebranding campaign for Sire Records, and helped with Spektor’s marketing campaigns.
In 2012, Adria was nominated for three MTV Video Music Awards for co-directing Beyoncé’s “Countdown,” Coldplay and Rihanna’s “Princess of China,” and Spektor’s “All the Rowboats.” Adria told Interview magazine that she’d initially had designs on getting into music. “I went to school, I did music theory, I did voice training and piano lessons, and while I was a decent musician, it didn’t seem like enough for me,” she said. “I felt like I wanted to make more than just music.”
Adria was also candid about her relationship to her famous father.
“I think my dad saw himself as a family man, somebody that had a child the year he got a record deal and moved out to California with 12-plus dependents,” she said. “He was 22 and felt a great deal of pressure to support all of the people that believed in him. What he was doing was based on a work ethic, and a focus on quality. I wasn’t given the sense that celebrity, or fame, or any of that, was something to be impressed by, or to seek out. It was always impressed upon me that making something well crafted, something respected, was the most important thing to do with your life, and I’ve tried to do that where I can in my field.”
Tom even accompanied Adria to the VMAs, telling an interviewer, “I’m proud — I’m really proud.”
Adria is also an accomplished documentary filmmaker, and her first — a doc about Paris Hilton called Paris, Not France — premiered at the Toronto International Film Fest in 2008. She’s also dabbled in film criticism, writing, and photography. Dad’s artistry rubbed off on her in its own unique way.
His second daughter, Annakim Violette
Also proving that artistry runs in the family is Tom’s younger daughter, Annakim Violette, now 35. An L.A. Weekly profile of the younger Petty offspring refers to her as an artist, style icon, budding movie producer, self-professed “love terrorist,” and 21st-century muse, with a penchant for unique design and a tendency to be featured on fashion blogs for her avant-garde style. Ironic, considering she’s not really into the fashion world.
“Unapologetically, I love costumes,” she told the paper. “But I hate the fashion industry. I don’t have a standard. My low is my high, basically … I’m always like the Tin Man at the airport. I don’t stand out to myself anymore, whether to some people I would. It makes me more blind and more honest, in a weird way.”
Violette’s unique style and aesthetic were highlighted in an on-camera interview with the online show “StyleLikeU,” which took viewers through her eclectic closet as she shared insights on the futility of social constructs and her desire to change how people perceive one another. She also admitted her previous desires to get involved with the music industry, saying, “As a child I remember the first thing I always wanted to be was a roadie, a painter, and then a musician. I remember I just wanted to make space as a teenager to do really analog, autistic art where it was all about color and texture and scent.”
Violette was also working on launching a career as a movie producer, appeared in short films, dabbled in blogging about her artistic life, and collaborated with photographer Autumn de Wilde on a book. As Violette told L.A. Weekly, “I’ve lived an eccentric life and I’m a boring person, so I don’t have to defend it.”
From the hospital, she shared updates and photos:
His second wife, Dana York
Tom met his second wife, Dana York, in the ultimate “meet cute” fashion when she attended one of his shows in the early ’90s and he spotted her in the audience. But Dana was married and Tom was in the throes of marital issues with his first wife, which spun out of control when the rocker began using heroin. Tom didn’t want Dana to know he was using and worked hard to hide it from her. As she said in his biography, “I’d stepped onto a fast-moving train, but we were having moments of tremendous happiness. Chaos and darkness and all this happiness at the same time.”
Tom credited York with saving his life. Having dealt with addiction issues in her own family, York knew what Tom was grappling with and vowed to support him as he worked to kick his drug habit. York also helped him reconnect with his daughters, with whom he had a strained relationship following his descent into drugs and depression after years on the road.
The two married in Las Vegas in 2001, after Petty sold out consecutive shows at the Hard Rock Hotel. They held a small ceremony a short while later at their home in Malibu to include family and friends. A fun fact about their marriage: Little Richard was their minister. Tom talked about it with the Chicago Tribune, saying, “He was really nervous, but so was I. He gave a long talk about love and its characteristics, and what it shouldn’t do. He was pretty inspirational.”
By all accounts, the two lived a lovely, drama-free life. They visited York’s family in Michigan for the holidays, spending Thanksgiving at her mother’s home in Fenton. They didn’t have any children together, although Tom is stepfather to York’s 21-year-old son Dylan, from a previous marriage.
With York, it seemed as though Tom had found the relationship equilibrium he had been searching for. In a 2014 interview with Billboard, Tom spoke about feeling romantically stable, and addressed previous songs of heartbreak and misery. As Tom told the magazine, “I’ve had enough of that. I don’t write as many love songs as I used to. I’m not in any love crisis at the moment.”
Undoubtedly, he will be missed.
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