Born in Graz, Styria, Fischer received a humanistic education, taking his Matura exams in 1956. He then went on to study law at the University of Vienna, earning a doctorate in 1961. Apart from being a politician, Fischer also pursued an academic career, was awarded the Habilitation in 1978 and became a Professor of Political Science in the University of Innsbruck in 1993.
Heinz Fischer has been a member of the Austrian parliament (Nationalrat) since 1971 and has served as its first (and later second) president since 1990. From 1983 to 1987 he was Minister for Science in a coalition government headed by Fred Sinowatz.
In January 2004 it was announced that Fischer would run for Federal President to succeed Thomas Klestil in July 2004. His candidature is supported by the SPÖ; his main opponent is Benita Ferrero-Waldner.
Apart from labelling him, in a slightly derogatory fashion, as a Berufspolitiker ("professional politician") who allegedly has never been in touch with the real world, Fischer's critics, first and foremost his colleague at university, Norbert Leser, point out that Fischer has always avoided controversy and conflict, even when that would have been called for. The example frequently quoted in this context is Fischer's tacit support of Bruno Kreisky's attacks on Simon Wiesenthal at a time when he could, and should, have spoken out. On being nominated for Federal President, Fischer himself said that he hated antagonising people and that he considered this quality an asset rather than anything else.
Fischer, who calls himself an agnostic, has been married since 1968. The couple have two grown-up children. Fischer enjoys mountaineering and has been president of the Austrian Naturfreunde for many years.