Heatherton began her career as a child actress and received her first sustained national exposure in 1959 as a semi-regular on The Perry Como Show, playing an exuberant teenager with a perpetual crush on Perry Como. She also appeared extensively on The Dean Martin Show; Dean Martin invited her to perform numerous times on the show.
From June to September 1968, along with Frank Sinatra, Jr., she co-hosted Martin's summer substitute musical comedy hour, Dean Martin Presents the Golddiggers.
In 1969, Heatherton married Lance Rentzel, a wide receiver for the Dallas Cowboys. In 1970, Rentzel was arrested for indecent exposure in front of a 10-year-old girl. They separated shortly afterward and divorced in 1972.
In 1972, Heatherton had a #24 pop hit with the 1957 Ferlin Husky song "Gone." Her album, The Joey Heatherton Album, did not do as well on the charts as her single.
By the 1970s, Heatherton's career was reduced to doing TV ads for RC Cola and Serta Mattresses. One high point came in July 1975 when she headlined Joey & Dad, a four-week Sunday night summer replacement series for Cher's 1975-76 variety show in which she performed alongside her own father.
Afterwards, Joey performed in Las Vegas and acted in a few TV shows and films, including the 1972 "Bluebeard" with Richard Burton. She also played the starring role as Xaviera Hollander in 1977's Watergate-inspired "The Happy Hooker Goes to Washington."