In 1978 he formed The Lounge Lizards, a fake-jazz combo with his brother Evan. The band continued to make music for 20 years.
During the 1980s he starred in a number of films by Jim Jarmusch, namely Stranger Than Paradise, Down By Law, Mystery Train and Permanent Vacation. He also composed music for the first three of these films.
His 2001 TV Series Fishing with John was a cult success. Lurie professes no knowledge about fishing, but appears in exotic locations with various notable friends, including Willem Dafoe, Matt Dillon, Dennis Hopper, Jim Jarmusch and Down by Law co-star Tom Waits.