His career was repeatedly interrupted by several prison stints stemming from his addiction to heroin, but Pepper managed to have several memorable and productive "comebacks." Remarkably, his substance abuse and legal travails did not affect the quality of his recordings, which maintained a high level of musicianship throughout his career until his death from a brain hemorrhage in 1982.
His last comeback saw Pepper, who had started his career in Stan Kenton's big band, becoming a member of Buddy Rich's Big Band from 1968 to 1969. In 1977 and 1978 he made two well received tours of Japan. During this period, he recorded two albums - Goin' Home with George Cables, and Winter Moon with a string orchestra - which were among his favorites and which he considered his definitive achievements.
Pepper lived for many years in the hills of Echo Park, in Los Angeles. He had become a heroin addict in the 1940s, and his career was interrupted by drug-related prison sentences in 1954–56, 1960–61, 1961–64 and 1964–65; the final two sentences were served in San Quentin. While in San Quentin he played in an ensemble with saxophonist Frank Morgan. In the late 1960s Pepper spent time in Synanon, a drug rehabilitation group.
After beginning methadone therapy in the mid-1970s, Art had a musical comeback and recorded a series of albums including Living Legend, Art Pepper Today, Among Friends, and Live in Japan: Vol. 2.
His autobiography,Straight Life (1980, transcribed by his third wife Laurie Pepper), discusses the jazz music world, as well as drug and criminal subcultures of mid-20th century California. Soon after the publication of this book, the director Don McGlynn released the documentary film Art Pepper: Notes from a Jazz Survivor, discussing his life and featuring interviews with both Art and his wife Laurie, as well as footage from a live performance in Malibu jazz club. Laurie Pepper also released an interview to NPR.
Pepper died of a stroke in Los Angeles on June 15, 1982. He was 56 years old. He is interred in the Abbey of the Psalms Mausoleum in the Hollywood Forever Cemetery, Hollywood.
Jazz Styles and Analysis: Alto Sax by Harry Miedema. Chicago, Fifth Printing, Feb . 1979. Includes Broadway.
Straight Life: the Story of Art Pepper by Art Pepper and Laurie Pepper. New York and London, 1979. ISBN 0-02-871820-8. Includes the head of Straight Life.
Jazz 2: Sax Alto. Transcribed by John Robert Brown. International Music Publications, Woodford Green, Essex, 1986. ISBN 0-86359-408-5. Includes 'Round Midnight.
The Genius of Art Pepper. Foreword by Laurie Pepper. North Sydney, Warner/Chappell Music, 1987. ISBN 1-86362-012-5. Includes: Arthur's Blues; Blues for Blanche; Funny Blues; Landscape; Make a List Make a Wish; Mambo de la Pinta; Mambo Koyama; Mr Big Falls his J.G. Hand; Our Song; Road Game; September Song; Tete a Tete. All transcriptions include parts for Alto and Rhythm; Funny Blues also has a part for Trumpet.
Masters of the Alto Saxophone Play The Blues. Jazz Alto Solos. Transcribed by Trent Kynaston and Jonathan Ball. Corybant Productions, 1990. Includes True Blues.
The Art Pepper Collection. Foreword by Jeff Sultanof. Milwaukee, Hal Leonard, 1995. ISBN 0-7935-4007-0. Includes: Art's Oregano; Diane; Landscape; Las Cuevas de Mario; Make a List (Make a Wish); Mr. Big Falls his J.G. Hand; Ophelia; Pepper Returns; Sometime; Straight Life; Surf Ride(I); Surf Ride(II); That's Love; The Trip; Waltz Me Blues.
West Coast Jazz Saxophone Solos transcribed and edited by Robert A. Luckey, Ph.D. Features 15 recorded solos from 1952–1961, including five solos by Art Pepper. Olympia Music Publishing, 1996. ISBN 0-9667047-1-1.
1965 "Jazz Discographies Unlimited" Presents "Art Pepper". A Complete Discography Compiled by Ernie Edwards, Jr. Ernie Edwards Jr. et al. Jazz Discographies Unlimited, Spotlight Series, Vol. 4. Oct . 1965. 22pp.
1973 Art Pepper: 'I'm Here to Stay!' by C. Marra. Downbeat, xl/4, 1973, p. 16.
1975 Pepper's Painful Road to Pure Art by L. Underwood. Downbeat, xlii/11, 1975, p. 16.
1979 Straight Life: the Story of Art Pepper by Art Pepper and Laurie Pepper. New York and London, 1979. ISBN 0-02-871820-8. Includes a discography.
1979 Art Pepper: Rewards of the Straight Life by P. Welding. Downbeat, xlvi/18, 1979, p. 16.
1979 The Contemporary Art of Pepper by Chris Sheridan. Jazz Journal International, Vol. 32, No. 9, September 1979, p. 9.
^ abcdSlonimsky, Nicolas; Theodore Baker (1992). Baker's Biographical Dictionary of Musicians, Eighth Edition. New York, New York: Schirmer Books.
^Dupuis, Robert. "Art Pepper." Contemporary Musicians: Profiles of the People in Music. Vol. 18. Detroit, MI: Gale Research, 1997. 164-67. Print.
^ abcStraight Life: The Story Of Art Pepper by Art Pepper and Laurie Pepper, Da Capo Press (reprint of original 1979 book published by Schirmer Books, a division of MacMillan Publishing). This book has been widely considered one of the best musician's autobiographies.