Tom Petty’s Aunt Harassed Him for Autographs at His Dad’s Funeral

When Tom Petty began finding success as a musician, his aunt saw a way to make a quick buck. He had a complicated relationship with his father, and his dynamic with his aunt proved to be challenging as well. She demanded autographs from the musician on more than one occasion, including at his father’s funeral. Here’s how Petty reacted to her request.

A black and white photo of Tom Petty sitting on a couch with a cigarette underneath a framed picture.
Tom Petty | Michael Putland/Getty Images

Tom Petty’s aunt wanted to profit off his signature

Once Petty began selling records, his family started using his fame to establish themselves as local celebrities. For his dad, Earl, this meant sleeping with as many women as possible. For his aunt, Pearl, this meant making money off Petty’s autograph.

“Pearl was a right pain in the a**,” Petty said in the book Petty: The Biography by Warren Zanes. “My father’s side of the family didn’t handle my fame well. They didn’t know me, so I just became an object to them. I remember Pearl coming into a hotel room with my dad, throwing down a notebook, and saying, ‘Just sign until you can’t sign anymore.'”

He was shocked by her words.

“I looked at her like, ‘What?'” he said. “And she says, ‘Just sign each page until you get tired.’ I wouldn’t do it.”

Tom Petty’s aunt wanted him to sign autographs at his father’s funeral

In 1999, Petty’s father, Earl, died. Petty and his longtime friend Alan “Bugs” Weidel flew to Gainesville to attend the funeral. He explained that as soon as he was getting ready to leave, Pearl arrived.

“After things had gone well enough, and we were getting ready to leave, Earl’s twin sister, Pearl, shows up,” he explained. “And she just lets out this huge scream, like, ‘Nobody told me you were going to be here! Come here, come here!’ And I was like, ‘No, we’re leaving right now.’ And she’s grabbing my arm, insisting, ‘No, you can’t leave — I got stuff y’all gotta sign!'”

Petty said he couldn’t believe she was making this request at the funeral.

“I mean, I’m walking away from my dad’s coffin,” he said. “It’s a hundred feet away from us, right? I’m thinking, ‘He’s your brother, for Christ’s sake, and you’re looking for autographs at his funeral?'”

Petty and Bugs walked to the car, and Pearl followed them all the way there. When they got in the car, she started banging on the window.

“She gets her hand on the door handle of the car, trying to open the door,” he said. “I just said, ‘Bugs, go.’ And we took off, with this screaming woman in the background. That was my father’s funeral.”

The Heartbreakers frontman did not attend his mother’s funeral

Petty did not attend his mother’s funeral, which occurred before his father’s, in 1981. His brother worried that having Petty there would cause problems

“We knew it would cause a horrible commotion,” Petty told Billboard in 2005. “My brother actually suggested that it probably wouldn’t be a good idea, because even to this day, you know, my family, I go there, and they just get cuckoo. What we didn’t want was for it to turn into an autograph fest and the Instamatics come out when it wasn’t about that.”

He said that he made peace with the fact that he couldn’t go.

“I don’t like funerals anyway. I don’t think I missed anything by not going,” he said, adding, “I made my own peace with my mother.”

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