Petty, the oldest of three children, was born in Chattanooga, Tennessee, the daughter of a Pentecostal minister. She graduated from North High School in Sioux City, Iowa in 1981 and worked for several years in Omaha as a graphic designer before pursuing acting.
In 1992, Petty was featured in what became her best known role, A League of Their Own, opposite Tom Hanks, Geena Davis and Madonna. Petty played the title role in Tank Girl in 1995, which made her into a cult icon. Her other films include Free Willy and In the Army Now. She also co-starred in the television series Lush Life with her friend Karyn Parsons, but it was canceled after four episodes. She joined the cast of Brimstone as the owner of Stone's hotel.
Petty is also known for providing the voice of the supervillain Livewire on the Warner Bros. series Superman: The Animated Series, and The New Batman Adventures. Although she was originally cast as Lt. Lenina Huxley in Demolition Man, disagreements over the character's direction led producer Joel Silver to recast the role with Sandra Bullock. Petty played the role of "Daddy", an alpha-female inmate in Prison Break: The Final Break.
- Bates Motel (TV series, 1987) as Willie
- Miami Vice (TV series, 1988) (Season 4 Ep.10 "Love At First Sight") as Carol
- The Thorns (TV series, 1988) as Cricket
- Alien Nation (1989 TV Series) (TV series, 1989) as Sal (Ep. 4 "Fifteen with Wanda")
- Police Story: Monster Manor (TV series, 1998)
- Perry Mason: The Case of the Musical Murder (TV series, 1988) as Cassie
- Booker (TV series, 1989) as Diane
- Lush Life (TV series, 1996) as Georgia "George" Sanders
- Superman: The Animated Series (TV series, 1997) as Livewire
- The New Batman Adventures (TV series, 1997) as Livewire
- Brimstone (TV series, 1998) as Max
- Star Trek Voyager (TV series, 1999) as Noss
- House (TV series, 2008) as Janice (patient with Huntington's Disease)
- CSI: NY (2008) (TV series)as bartender
- The Cleaner (TV series, 2009) as Sunshine
- Superman: Shadow of Apokolips (video game, 2002) as Livewire (voice)
- Higurashi When They Cry (anime, 2005) as Tamae Hojo (dub)
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