Michael Peterson, 1953-2012

Michael Peterson, 1953-2012. Joli

Surfing icon Michael Peterson has passed away after reportedly suffering a heart attack March 29 at his home in Australia. He was 59 years old.

"We are saddened to announce that Michael passed away this morning," told Peterson's mother Joan Watt on his Facebook fan page. "He will be greatly missed. We thank you for your support and prayers."

The outpouring of love for the enigmatic 1970s surf star was immediate, and in a testament to how profound the man's impact truly was on the sport of surfing, the news reverberated around the surf world nearly instantaneously across social media channels. Over the years, Peterson's surfing has inspired everybody from Tom Curren to Kelly Slater, Mick Fanning and Joel Parkinson.

"I'm so glad Rabbit [Bartholomew] and I went out to see MP at his home only four weeks ago to talk some story," told 1976 world champion Peter Townend, who grew up under the shadow of Peterson on Australia's Gold Coast. "Save some waves in Heaven for us MP."

Considered to be one of the best surfers of all time, in 1971 Peterson starred in Alby Falzon's groundbreaking film "Morning of the Earth," which helped cement the Shortboard Revolution. With his aviator sunglasses, leather jacket and brooding aura, he was nothing short of intimidating. Practically unbeatable in competition throughout the first half of the '70s, the highlight of Peterson's competitive career came in 1973-75 when he won the Bells Beach Easter Classic (the forerunner to today's Rip Curl Pro, which begins next week) three consecutive times, a feat that has yet to be repeated.

He was also a talented surfboard maker, usually winning on his own equipment. The most notable of his designs was his multi-stepped "fang tail."

Toward the end of the '70s Peterson's involvement with hard drugs began to lead him astray. Before being properly diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia in 1983, he spent a handful of years in an out of jail and psychiatric hospitals. He eventually settled in with his mother in South Tweed Heads, living in relative seclusion.

In 2004, surf writer Sean Doherty wrote a fascinating biography about Peterson's life entitled "MP."