The Associated Press
SANTA FE, N.M. - Howie Epstein, a former bass player for Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, died of what authorities suspect was a drug overdose. He was 47.
Investigators were told Epstein had been using heroin, said Major Ron Madrid of the Santa Fe County Sheriff's Department. Epstein was driven to St. Vincent Hospital by his girlfriend, who described him as "under distress." He died Sunday.
Epstein had been a respected musician and producer for more than 20 years. In addition to his work with Petty, he played on some of Bob Dylan's albums in the 1980s and produced a Grammy-award winning album for John Prine called The Missing Years.
He was the longtime boyfriend of singer Carlene Carter. He produced two of her albums, one of which was nominated for a Grammy award.
"I'm devastated," said Carter, the stepdaughter of country singer Johnny Cash and daughter of June Carter Cash. "I loved him very much. My kids thought of Howie as their father." She said they split last May.
Epstein teamed up with Petty in 1982 and also worked with Roy Orbison, Del Shannon, John Hiatt, Stevie Nicks and Eric Anderson.
"We are deeply saddened at the news of Howie's passing. . . . The world has lost a great talent and a kind and gentle soul," according to a statement on Petty's Web site.
Epstein and Carter were arrested in June 2001 in Albuquerque with 2.9 grams of heroin and drug paraphernalia in a vehicle that had been reported stolen.
Epstein was not charged in that case. Carter pleaded no contest to a charge of heroin possession and was sentenced to 18 months probation.
Epstein, who was born in Milwaukee, is survived by Jamie Leffler, 15, his daughter who lives in Los Angeles, and two brothers.
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