When he was still a boy, Montand's family left Italy to escape Mussolini's regime and moved to Marseille, France where as a young man he worked on the docks. He began a career in show business as a music-hall singer. In 1944 he was discovered by Edith Piaf in Paris and she made him part of her act, becoming his mentor and lover.
He would go on to international recognition, starring in numerous films. In 1951 Montand married the actress Simone Signoret, co-starring several times with her until her death in 1985. The following year, a 65-year-old Montand gave one of his most memorable performances as the scheming uncle in the two-part film: Jean de Florette co-starring Gerard Depardieu and Manon des Sources co-starring Emmanuelle Beart.
During his career he acted in a number of American motion pictures as well as on Broadway. He was nominated for a Cesar Award for "Best Actor" in 1980 for the film "I comme Icare" and again in 1984 for "Garçon !"
His only child, Valentin Montand, the son of his assistant Carole Amiel, was born in 1988.
In his later years, he maintained a home in Provence until his death. He is buried in the Père Lachaise Cemetery, Paris, France.