Jim Ladd, Who Inspired Tom Petty’s ‘The Last DJ,’ Has Died at 75
Veteran Los Angeles radio host Jim Ladd died on Dec. 16 at the age of 75 after suffering a heart attack.
The news was confirmed on SiriusXM by DJ Meg Griffin, who replaced Ladd for what would have been his regular Deep Tracks show on Monday. “I am so sorry for the shock that just hit you as you’re listening right now,” Griffin said on air.
She added that Ladd “never stopped caring. He delivered the truth. He lived for the music.”
His radio career began at the Long Beach station KNAC in 1969 before he moved to L.A.’s KLOS in 1971 and then KMET in 1974. He mostly remained with “The Mighty Met” until a controversial and sudden format change in 1987.
His refusal to follow playlists made it difficult for him to find regular work until he signed up once again with KLOS under what he called his “free-form radio” approach. He was heard on air from 1997 until 2011. He then moved to SiriusXM.
Ladd became close friends with Roger Waters, and the DJ inspired the former Pink Floyd member’s second solo album, Radio K.A.O.S., released in 1987. Ladd played the fictional DJ on the album and its subsequent tour. He was also the inspiration for Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers’ 2002 album The Last DJ, which featured songs critical of radio commercialization and was boycotted by some stations.
The title track refers to Ladd in the opening lines: "Well, you can’t turn him into a company man / You can’t turn him into a whore / And the boys upstairs just don’t understand anymore."
Ladd was also a writer and producer and hosted the interview show Innerviews for many years. He appeared in the 1989 rom-com Say Anything and was heard in To Die For and Tequila Sunrise (1989), She’s Out of Control (1989), Rush (1991) and Defender (2009). He played a news reporter in the 1989 movie Silent Night, Deadly Night 3: Better Watch Out! He received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 2005.
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“Tom respected and admired Jim Ladd and considered him a friend,” read a message from Petty’s estate. “His insights into rock 'n' roll were priceless. Jim’s voice will be missed on the airwaves. Our family joins his in mourning his loss.”
Neal Schon said, “God bless Jim, as he was the best and paved the way for many to follow. My sincere condolences to family and friends. RIP, brother. I will always cherish the great memories of our friendship.”
Robby Krieger noted, “He was the best friend in radio the Doors ever had. Even when people forgot about us in the late ‘70s, he kept playing our music.” Michael McKean, who's also known as David St. Hubbins in Spinal Tap, said, “Sorry to hear about Jim Ladd. My encounters with him were always pleasant, and he played along with the jokes like a pro.”
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Gallery Credit: Lauryn Schaffner