Dylan made more than 40 albums and wrote hundreds of songs that were recorded by everyone from Marlene Dietrich ("Blowin' in the Wind") to Jimi Hendrix ("All Along the Watchtower").
The Beatles and the Rolling Stones acknowledged his influence and later rock 'n' roll musicians like Tom Petty, Elvis Costello and Mark Knopfler said they owed much to Dylan's singing, playing and writing.
"I never wanted to be a prophet or a savior," Dylan said in a rare interview with "60 Minutes" in 2004, when he had published his memoir "Chronicles, Vol. 1." "Elvis maybe. I could see myself becoming him. But prophet? No."
Even his name was a mystery. Born Robert Zimmerman in 1941 in Duluth, Minn., he later changed his name, some said after the Welsh poet Dylan Thomas. But others have noted that as a boy, Dylan loved Westerns and had adopted the name after his television hero, Matt Dillon of "Gunsmoke."
"I can't really say [how he got the name], it popped into my head," Dylan cryptically said in published interviews.
Dylan's private life was also shrouded in mystery. Fans never knew he nearly died in a motorcycle accident in the 1960s until months afterwards. It wasn't until he divorced in 1977 that the public knew he had been married to Sara Lowndes for 12 years. They had four children, including Jakob, who became a star in his own right with the Wallflowers.
A second marriage was only revealed in 2001, when Carol Dennis, a former backup singer, acknowledged they were married from 1986-1992 and had a daughter, Desiree Gabrielle.
In the mid-60s, his fans derided him for taking up electric guitar. Long a symbol of the counterculture, Dylan later drew cries of "sell-out" when he was featured in a Victoria's Secret lingerie ad in 2003.
Still, the singer was nominated for a Nobel Prize, named one of Time magazine's Top 100 most important artists of the 20th century and went on to win both an Academy Award and a Golden Globe for best song with "Things Have Changed" from the movie "Wonder Boys" in 2001.
Dylan's popularity and status have endured, according to Howard Kramer, curatorial director of the Cleveland-based Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
"Bob Dylan is one of most important artists in Western culture," Kramer told ABNEWS.com. "His music still resonates. Britney Spears will not be remembered 50 years from now. It's all about the music."
"Anyone who redefines the art form -- like Picasso or Miles Davis -- affects lives and generations," said Kramer. "He was not the first person to inject social and political conscience into his songs, but no one was as articulate, and no one used mass communications like he did."
Dylan was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1988, but his fans still range from "junior high school kids on up to senior citizens," said Kramer.
One of them is Alex Clifford, a 24-year-old keyboard player and songwriter from New York City, who said he had been inspired by Dylan.
"My father was a huge Dylan fan and I started listening to his old vinyl records," said Clifford. In the 1966 album "Blonde on Blonde," the young songwriter finds Dylan both "irreverent and intimate."
Though some of his bandmates disagree, Clifford said there are no modern musicians that have Dylan's stature: "He's pretty incomparable."