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Revisit Tom Petty’s secret appearance on ‘King of the Hill’

“Bobby, some things are like a tire fire, trying to put it out only makes it worse. You just gotta grab a beer and let it burn.” – Hank Hill

It might seem like some sort of administrative error in the fate department of the universe that Tom Petty, a paragon of rock ‘n’ roll values from the mid-1970s and onwards, should end up in the animated comedy series King of the Hill, but I can assure you there is no mix-up with the headline and April 1st has long since passed. 

For those unfamiliar with the show, it was an animated comedy that ran from 1997 until 2010 and followed a straight-laced and straight-talking propane salesman in Arlen, Texas, as he tries to keep a lid on the unfurling antic antics of his friends and family, most notably his wannabe comedian son. If that sentence was news to you, then you have 258 joyous episodes ahead to enjoy. 

As it turns out, Petty was hiding in plain sight within the series all along. Not least because his character was actually dubbed as looking like “Tom Petty without the success.” Despite all of that, and indeed, the character sharing the same gruff tones as the legendary singer, albeit with an exaggerated cadence, it seemed inconceivable that it was actually him.

When the character, Elroy ‘Lucky’ Kleinschmidt, was crafted in production, it was suggested that they should actually pitch it to Tom Petty just for the sake of it, after all, he had appeared in the disastrous Kevin Costner outingThe Postman. As showrunner Mike Judge told the Chicago Tribune in 2009: “John Altschuler, who ran the show for the last seven/eight years, had written this character named ‘Lucky’ and described him as looking like ‘Tom Petty without the success’.” 

It occurred to them that they should ask Petty if he was interested and he said, “Yeah, I’ll do it,” Judge said. “And he was great, just killed at the table read. Then he said, ‘Any time you want me to do it, I’ll do it.’ Turns out he really meant it.”

From that point on Petty would appear on the show more than two dozen times from 2004 to 2009 as another bumbling fool from the weirdest propane town in Texas. Upon his sad passing, Judge told Rolling Stone: “We had all grown up on his music, that unique voice of his, and to have him as the voice of Lucky on King of the Hill was just wonderful. He was always a pleasure to work with – such a funny guy. He will be greatly missed.”

…And no, remarkably none of it had anything to do with the ‘King of the Hill’ track with Roger McGuinn.

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