He was born in Medford, Massachusetts.
His first novel was called Waldo.
His novel Doctor Slaughter was made into a film, Half Moon Street (1986), starring Michael Caine and Sigourney Weaver, which received bad reviews from film critics.
His novel The Mosquito Coast was also made into a film of the same name (1986), directed by Peter Weir, and starring Harrison Ford, Helen Mirren, and River Phoenix. It received a more positive reception.
Theroux has two sons by his first wife. They are the writer and television presenter Marcel Theroux, and the television presenter Louis Theroux. Theroux currently lives on Hawaii.