He was a comedy star who first gained popularity in French vaudeville, operettas, and music-hall revues.
In 1930, he appeared in his first motion picture and for more than forty years he would be France's top comedic actor. He was perhaps best-loved for his portrayal of the irascible Italian village priest at war with the town's communist mayor in the Don Camillo series of motion pictures.
He also appeared in Italian and American films. His first Hollywood motion picture was in 1956 in Around the World in Eighty Days in which he played David Niven's coachman. His popular performace in that film led to starring with Bob Hope and Anita Ekberg in the 1958 comedy, Paris Holiday.
In addition to acting, Fernandel also directed or co-produced several of his own films.
Fernandel died from cancer and is buried in the Cimetière de Passy, Paris, France.