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Tom Petty and George Harrison became close friends in the late 1980s. A couple of bizarre occurrences happened when they got acquainted, and Petty took them as signs. He surmised that they’d been friends in a past life. Petty and George then went on to form The Traveling Wilburys with Jeff Lynne, Bob Dylan, and Roy Orbison.

They had many years of friendship, but it was cut short when George died in 2001. For Petty, there was a duality to mourning George.

Steve Winwood, his wife, George Harrison, Jeff Lynne, and Tom Petty at a party.
Steve Winwood and wife, George Harrison, Jeff Lynne, and Tom Petty | SGranitz/WireImage

Tom Petty experienced George Harrison’s death before the former Beatle died in 2001

Before George died in 2001, Petty said he experienced his friend’s death. The former Beatle and his wife were attacked during a 1999 home invasion. Petty thought George had died.

Petty said he was thankful that George had his spirituality when he eventually left his body in 2001. He wouldn’t have been able to cope knowing George had left his body wrong if he’d died in the attack.

In a special edition of Rolling Stone called “Remembering George,” Petty said, “He is just a really brave guy, and he died with a great deal of dignity. It’s so much easier for me than if he had died that night in the attack. I don’t think I could have dealt with that. I told him so.

“When I put on my TV the morning he was stabbed, it looked like he had died, there were so many biographical things coming up on the TV. After that, I told him, ‘I already kind of went through your death.’ And I said, ‘Just do me a favor and don’t die that way, because I just can’t handle it.’ He said he promised me he wasn’t going out that way.”

Then, a couple of years later, George became seriously ill. Again, Petty watched as the press tried to eat George alive. “He was probably the most hounded of his whole life when he was trying to deal with that,” Petty continued.

“Especially in Europe, he never got a moment’s peace. He would have helicopters follow him when he left the house. I guess that comes with the territory. That’s part of the price you pay. He paid that price so many times — well, overpaid.”

Petty said there was a ‘duality’ to mourning George

When George did leave his body, it was on his terms. His wife Olivia said he lit the room when he died. Petty had gotten what he asked for; George died with dignity and without fear because of his spirituality. However, the Heartbreakers frontman had another problem: mourning George.

Petty had to grieve George as a friend and as a fan.

“And then over the weekend, it really comes home to you that, oh, wow, the whole world feels this way,” Petty said of his sadness over George’s death. “They all knew him in their way, and they are mourning him as well. It was very hard, because there’s a duality to it. I mourn for my friend, and then I also am a huge fan just like everyone else.”


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Petty missed his friend

Reflecting on his relationship with George, Petty said he missed their late-night jam sessions the most.

“His enthusiasm was very contagious in a recording session, in a writing session,” Petty said. “He just had unbridled enthusiasm. One of the things I’ll miss most is when he used to drop by and he would always have a guitar or a ukulele in his hands most of the evening. He taught me so much guitar. I miss him showing me the guitar and some Beatles lick that I could never figure out.

“George was the kind of guy who wasn’t going to leave until he hugged you for five minutes and told you how much he loved you. We knew where we stood with each other.

“I feel blessed. And it’s the only time in my life, really, that I had been that close to somebody — outside of like my mom dying or something. I loved him so much, and if he had never played a note, I would have been so blessed to have him in my life.

“I’m just blessed by God to have known him. He had so much love in him. I realized it more with him gone that he was just pure love. George was just really as beautiful as they pictured him. And maybe more.”

Thankfully and bittersweetly, Petty and George are together again, jamming up a storm.