Born in Boston, Massachusetts, she was given a Buddhist upbringing. Her Swedish mother Nena was introduced to her first husband, Timothy Leary, by Salvador Dali, whom she divorced after less than a year before marrying Uma's father Robert, a professor of Indo-Tibetan Buddhist studies at Columbia University. "Uma" is the name of a Hindu goddess of light and beauty.
Uma Thurman left school at the age of 15 to pursue an acting career in New York City. In 1990 she married actor Gary Oldman, but divorced him two years later. In 1998 she married actor Ethan Hawke, whom she had met at the set of Gattaca, and gave birth to a daughter Maya Ray.
Thurman became a pop culture legend when, at an Oscar Awards ceremony, talk show host David Letterman lampooned her name by pretending to introduce her to talk show host Oprah Winfrey (both were in the audience.) As a result, "Uma...Oprah. Oprah...Uma." became a heavily repeated catch phrase over the next year, inciting various spinoffs.
In 2003, Thurman and Hawke split, but claimed that as of then, there were no plans for a divorce.