Doctor Tom Petty has quite the ring to it. On Dec. 10, the late artist will receive a special honorary doctorate degree from the University of Florida.
The board of trustees at the university, located in Petty’s hometown of Gainesville, Florida, voted unanimously to recognize the late musician, who is also the most famous native of the city.
Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers 1989 hit “I Won’t Back Down” was also adopted as the unofficial theme song by the athletic teams at the University of Florida, including their Gators football team. The team played the song in memoriam for Petty, who passed away from an accidental overdose of medication in 2017.
“[He’s] widely considered among the most distinctive and influential musicians over the past 50 years,” said Joseph Glover, the university provost. Glover went on to list many of Petty’s accomplishments in music, including his three Grammy Awards, an American Society of Composers Award, a Billboard Century Award, and more. Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers were also inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 2002.
Petty, who was never enrolled in the university, worked as a groundskeeper at UF while he was trying to make it in the music industry. In 2006, the university also gave Petty the Distinguished Achievement Award.
YouTube recently premiered the documentary Somewhere You Feel Free: The Making of Wildflowers, chronicling the making of Petty’s 1994 second solo album Wildflowers. An expansive reissue of the album, Finding Wildflowers, was also released in early 2021.
“His presence remains significant as seen by abundant radio airplay and the popularity of events such as the Tom Petty birthday bash held in Gainesville,” added Glover. “On the UF campus, Petty’s famous ‘I Won’t Back Down’ has become a mantra at athletic events, and I personally have heard President [Kent] Fuchs sing it.”
Photo by Robert Sebree / Warner Records