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  • John Lennon was one of Tom Petty’s childhood heroes.
  • Tom Petty could remember where he was when he heard John Lennon died.
  • The way Keith Richards handled a potential attack was a relief to Tom Petty.
Tom Petty wears a black and white striped jacket and sits on a couch.
Tom Petty | Michael Putland/Getty Images

In 1980, John Lennon’s death rocked the music world. Some people, like Tom Petty, could remember exactly where they were at the time of the former Beatle’s death. Petty explained that Lennon’s death had a profound impact on him. He considered Lennon one of his heroes and felt that his death was another dark spot in a bleak year.

Tom Petty knew he wanted to be a musician because of John Lennon and The Beatles

Elvis was Petty’s first musical obsession, but his introduction to The Beatles was particularly life-changing for him. He remembered the way it felt to watch the band on The Ed Sullivan Show.

“I was 13, and already somewhat of a music fan. This was the great moment in my life, really, that changed everything,” he said, per the Grammys. “I had been a fan up to that point. But this was the thing that made me want to play music. You saw that it could be done. There could be a self-contained unit that wrote, recorded and sang songs. And it looked like they were having an awful lot of fun doing it.”

He explained that today, it’s hard to comprehend how monumental the moment was.

“It’s very hard for people to understand how monolithic it was, looking at it today,” he said. “But it was absolutely earthshaking. These weren’t days when you had rock and roll on television very frequently at all. And [the Beatles] were so ready for it.”

Tom Petty described how John Lennon’s death impacted him

When Lennon died, Petty was in the recording studio, hoping that he’d be able to meet the former Beatle within the next week or so.

“Ringo [Starr] was working next door that week,” Petty said in the book Conversations With Tom Petty by Paul Zollo. “The talk right around that time was John was coming to sing on Ringo’s album. So we were kind of jazzed up, thinking that we’d get to meet John.”

Petty explained that nobody believed it when they first heard the news.

“A call came. It seemed like the early evening,” he said. “A call came and said John had been shot. We just thought it was nonsense. And then a call came right back in about fifteen minutes that said that John’s dead. So we stopped work. And went home.”

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Petty said that Lennon’s death infuriated him.

“His death hurt real bad, still hurts,” he told Playboy in 1982. “Each time I see his picture or hear him sing, I immediately get pissed off that some f***ing jerk could just blow him away. In fact, the only two people I have ever looked up to, idolized — Lennon and Elvis — are both dead. And I’m not someone into idols.”

He explained that it had already been a rough year, and this added to his devastation.

“The spark was gone. It hurt for so long, it f***ed me up,” he said. “My mom died the same year. It was a black year.”

He was relieved to see how Keith Richards handled a potential attack

Petty said that the murder weighed heavily on him for a while. He felt a sense of relief, though, when he saw someone try to attack Keith Richards.

“I don’t worry about it much now,” he said. “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.”