Skip to main content


  • The news of John Lennon’s death devastated Tom Petty.
  • Tom Petty cheered for Keith Richards after watching him take on an attacker. 
  • The Heartbreakers’ guitarist said Tom Petty reminded him a bit of Keith Richards.
Tom Petty and Keith Richards pose together in a backstage space.
Tom Petty and Keith Richards | KMazur/WireImage

In the 1980s, Tom Petty watched Keith Richards hit a would-be attacker over the head during a concert. This happened shortly after John Lennon’s death, which Petty said was a troubling time for him. Many musicians said they started fearing for their own safety after Lennon was shot. Petty was devastated to have lost someone whose legacy meant so much to him. He explained that he felt incredibly relieved a year later when he saw Richards take on an attacker.

The news of John Lennon’s death devastated the Heartbreakers

In 1980, Mark David Chapman shot and killed Lennon outside his apartment building in Manhattan. When Petty first heard the news, he thought it was a joke. 

“I was in Cherokee Recording Studios in Hollywood when I heard,” he told Rolling Stone in 2000, per The Petty Archives. “I was working with [producer] Jimmy Iovine, who knew John and had worked with him quite a bit. Someone called the studio from New York and said that John had been shot. We thought it was a gag, and we kept working. Then someone called and said, ‘John’s dead.'”

He explained that this immediately took the air out of the studio. They stopped for the night.

“It just stopped the session,” he said. “I went home, and on the way I could see people sitting in their cars at traffic lights just crying. It was a hard thing to believe. I still have trouble believing it.”

Tom Petty felt reassured by how Keith Richards handled an attacker

Petty said that he had a hard time recovering from Lennon’s death.

“It hurt for so long, it f***ed me up,” he told Playboy in 1982. “My mom died the same year. It was a black year.”

He began to feel better after watching The Rolling Stones on TV in 1981. A fan stormed the stage and made a dash at Mick Jagger. Richards took off his guitar and swung it like a bat. After making contact, he resumed playing.

“I don’t worry about it much now,” Petty explained. “I saw the Stones recently on cable TV, and there was some guy who ran onstage and went for Keith. Keith jabbed him in the head with his Telecaster. I stood up and cheered. F***ing A, no one’s gonna shoot Keith. It’s the attitude you have to take.”

The Heartbreakers’ guitarist said Tom Petty was a little like Keith Richards

Petty’s bandmate Mike Campbell said he saw a bit of Richards in Petty. 


Tom Petty Being a ‘Beatles Freak’ Irritated His Producer

“He’s got a very powerful opinion, and he’s usually right,” Campbell told Canoe, per The Petty Archives. “But he’s a great boss, a great leader, a great force. It’s like having Bob Dylan and Keith Richards in one guy. He’s stern when he needs to be, but he’s also democratic. And we’ve been together this long, so obviously it works out well.”