Petty decided that someday he'd be a rock star when he met Elvis Presley at the age of 10. He formed a couple bands, including Mudcrutch before the Heartbreakers lineup solidified in the late 70's. They recorded and released a couple albums in those first years, none of which were huge hits.
The third album Damn the Torpedoes went platinum. They wrote songs that people could relate to, about love and the challenges of life. Their musical style was consistent and enduring. They were never the loudest, the hardest, the most drugged out, the most political, the most outspoken. What they were, and still are, is popular. Period.
They played Live Aid in 1985, then Petty branched off to pursue other interests for a while. He teamed up with George Harrison, Roy Orbison, Bob Dylan and Jeff Lynne in the group The Traveling Wilburys, the released his wildly popular solo album Full Moon Fever.
That album included the songs Runnin' Down a Dream, Free Falling and I Won't Back Down.
The Heartbreakers got back together for 1991's Into the Great Wide Open, which generated the hit title song and Learning to Fly.
They recorded Mary Jane's Last Dance for a greatest hits album, which would later become a subject of controversy when Red Hot Chili Peppers released Dani California, a song with several similarities. The band never pursued legal action though many thought they should, because in Petty's words, there are enough frivolous lawsuits in this country without people fighting about pop songs.
Petty would release a few more solo albums, but also continue performing with the band. He started his own show on an XM radio station. A documentary, Runnin' Down a Dream was released in 2007.
They've played the halftime show of the Superbowl, something not many performers can put on their resume.
Reflecting on the band's admission to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, Petty said this:
It's very easy to be cynical about the Hall of Fame. But on the other hand, it's a really beautiful thing for someone like me. I've dedicated my entire life to music.