He made his first stage appearance on November 27, 1820, at the Walnut Street theatre, in Homes Douglas. In 1826 he had a great success in New York as Othello. He played at Drury Lane in the Gladiator in 1836, but his Macbeth in 1843 was hissed by the English audience, and his affront to Macready in Edinburgh shortly afterwards when he stood up in a private box and hissed him was fatal to his popularity in Great Britain.
His jealousy of Macready resulted in the Astor Place riot in 1849. In 1837 he had married Catherine, daughter of John Sinclair, an English singer, and his divorce suit in 1852 was a cause célébre which hurt his reputation and soured his temper. His last appearance was as Richelieu in Boston in 1871. By the time of his death, he had amassed a large fortune, much of which he left by will to found a home for aged actors.
See Lawrence Barrett's Edwin Forrest (Boston, 1881).