Brown was born in San Francisco, California, the son of former Democratic governor Pat Brown. He graduated from the University of California, Berkeley in 1961. Brown was a Democrat who served as governor from 1975 - 1983. He was staunchly opposed to the Vietnam War, and he had a broad base of support from California's young left-wing radicals who dominated the political scene at the time. He ran for the U.S. Senate and was defeated by Republican Pete Wilson in 1982.
Brown dated pop singer Linda Ronstadt in the late 1970's.