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Monday, October 2, was an emotional one for rock music fans, as the legendary musician Tom Petty passed away in a Santa Monica hospital after being found unconscious inside his home the night before. Outpourings of grief and respect have been plentiful, both from everyday fans and from those in the entertainment industry. In particular, Simpsons writer/producer and Petty superfan Mike Scully opened up about the rock star's cameo on the animated series' Season 14 episode "How I Spent My Strummer Vacation." In his words:
He was everything we wanted. He brought his guitar, he played for us. He clearly was having a great time doing it. That is him playing the guitar in the show. He just grabbed his guitar and asked us, 'You mean something like this?' and what he did was what we used in the show. He knew exactly what we were talking about. He got the joke right away. If you watch the closing credits of that episode, we have a snippet of him recording his lines and playing the guitar.
If there's anyone in the music industry who came across as less of a diva than Tom Petty, it would have to be somebody like "Weird" Al. (Fun fact: he famously covered the Stevie Nicks and Tom Petty duet "Stop Draggin My Heart Around.") So it should surprise no one that Petty showed up for his Simpsons recording session ready to deliver the goods, both musically and comedically.
Even fans that largely tuned out of The Simpsons after its Golden Era should remember "How I Spent My Strummer Vacation," which featured cameos from some of the biggest musicians of all time. Beyond Tom Petty, the episode also sported guest spots from Mick Jagger, Keith Richards, Elvis Costello, Lenny Kravitz and Brian Setzer. And as Mike Scully put it in his interview with EW, the original pitch was to get second-tier rock musicians as guests, but Jagger and Richards were eager and willing to take part in it to promote a Rolling Stones tour they were kicking off at the time. So it would have been silly to scoop up some one hit wonder-makers after getting those two behemoths, so Scully said he immediately thought about Petty as being the next person to call.
Having seen Tom Petty's recurring appearances on It's Garry Shandling's Show in the late '80s, as well as other appearances he'd given over the years, Mike Scully knew that Petty would be a perfect fit for The Simpsons. Here's what else he had to say about it:
There were a few people I always wanted to have on the show, and he was one of them... It was so much fun to write his voice because I already knew it so well from all the years of seeing him play and hearing him do interviews and watching him on the Shandling show. He was just one of those guys who, on top of all the musical talent, was genuinely funny.
I don't think I'm alone in thanking all that is holy to Reverend Lovejoy that The Simpsons didn't unwittingly offer a prediction about Tom Petty's death at any point. That would have just been weird. But for something non-weird, you can check out the non-prescient clip from Petty's cameo below.