How News Of Tom Petty's Death Spread Before He Died


On Monday afternoon, media outlets around the world (including this one) reported that singer Tom Petty had died.

The reports were based on a supposed confirmation CBS News said it received from the Los Angeles Police Department and followed an earlier report by TMZ that Petty had suffered a massive heart attack.

As tributes poured in for the 66-year-old musician, it came to light that Petty was still alive. The LAPD clarified that it did not know about the singer’s condition and apologized for “any inconvenience.”

On Twitter, the gaffe evoked comparisons to the cat in Austrian physicist Erwin Schrödinger’s famous 1935 thought-experiment.

“Simultaneously reading that Tom Petty is alive and dead,” read one tweet. “He is schrodinger’s rock star.”

Another read: “Tom Petty apparently in some kind of Schrödinger box state at this point.”

Of course, there were predictable references to Petty’s lyrics. “Tom Petty was reported dead then not dead,” read a tweet. “Which makes sense because you can stand him up at the gates of hell but he won’t back down.”

Many people, though, slammed the media.

“If the Tom Petty situation confirms anything for us, it's that journalism has been taken off of life support and is officially dead,” tweeted Rob Lewis.

“Okay, so I come home and Tom Petty is dead,” Jeff Lovegrove tweeted. “I take a nap, and suddenly he's alive. Who is in charge of this thing called news?”

Rachael A. Liberman of the University of Denver tweeted: “The confusion around @tompetty & current condition = case study on news cycles, sources, labor, digitization & media ethics.” 

TMZ took a lot of hits on social media, even though it never reported that Petty had died. 

In a statement, CBS News explained it “reported information obtained officially from the LAPD about Tom Petty. The LAPD later said it was not in a position to confirm information about the singer.”

Here's a timeline of how it all went down:


3:00 pm ET - TMZ posts a report with the headline: “Tom Petty Found Unconscious In Full Cardiac Arrest.” The website cites law enforcement sources as saying the singer was found “not breathing and in full cardiac arrest” at his Malibu home on Sunday night. “Petty’s condition is unknown but was critical from the moment he was found,” TMZ reported.

3:30 pm ET - TMZ updates its report. “We’re told after Petty got to the hospital he had no brain activity and a decision was made to pull life support.”

3:59 pm ET — CBS News reports that the Los Angeles Police Department has confirmed the death of Tom Petty. CBS News tweets: “JUST IN: Rocker Tom Petty is dead at 66, Los Angeles Police Department confirms to CBS News.”

Media outlets around the world (including report on the death of Petty. Fans and music stars begin sharing tributes on social media, including John Mayer, Peter Frampton, Paul Stanley and Canadian country star Brett Kissel.

4:35 pm ET - TMZ adds to its report, citing sources as saying a chaplain was called to Petty’s hospital room at 10:30 a.m. local time (1:30 pm ET). “We’re told the family has a ‘do not resuscitate’ order on Tom,” the website reported. “The singer is not expected to live through the day, but he’s still clinging to life.”

4:39 pm ET - Rolling Stone tweets reaction from Bob Dylan. “It’s shocking, crushing news. I thought the world of Tom. I’ll never forget him.”

4:41 pm ET - TMZ tweets: “A report that the LAPD confirmed the singer’s death is inaccurate.”

4:55 pm ET - The Los Angeles Police Department tweets that it has “no information about the passing of Tom Petty.” It adds: “Initial information was inadvertently (sic) provided to some media sources. However, the LAPD has no investigative role in this matter. We apologize for any inconvenience in this reporting.”

5:09 pm ET - CBS News tweets: “The LAPD says it cannot confirm earlier reports of singer Tom Petty’s death. TMZ reports that the singer is still clinging to life.”

5:16 pm ET - Canadian superstar Shania Twain tweets a photo of herself with Petty and Stevie Nicks captioned: “So sad to hear of the passing of Tom Petty. Such an incredible, inspiring artist. I'll treasure fond memories of our time spent together this past summer.”

5:50 pm ET - Petty’s daughter Violette shares a message on Instagram directed at Rolling Stone. “My dad is not dead yet but your f***ing magazine is,” she wrote. “How dare you report that my father has died … I will f***ing s**t down your throat and your family’s … This is my father not a celebrity. An artist and human being. F**k u.”

6:34 pm ET - TMZ posts audio of a 911 call in which Petty's wife Dana receives instructions for performing CPR.

6:35 pm ET - Paul McCartney tweets: “Sending love to Tom Petty and his family at this difficult time.”

8:18 pm ET - Petty’s daughter Violet says on Instagram: “Band is here with my dad sweetest coolest people. we are one.”

11:40 pm ET - Petty died in hospital, according to a statement from his longtime manager Tony Dimitriades, surrounded by family, friends and bandmates.