In a career spanning almost forty years, Roberts has performed in over 400 films, including Raggedy Man (1981), The Pope of Greenwich Village (1984), The Specialist (1994), Cecil B. Demented (2000), National Security (2003), The Dark Knight (2008), The Expendables (2010), A Talking Cat!?! (2013), and Inherent Vice (2014). His equally varied television work includes three seasons with the sitcom Less than Perfect, as well as recurring roles on the NBC drama Heroes and the CBS soap opera The Young and the Restless, as well as Saved by the Light, and the legal drama Suits.
His sisters Julia Roberts and Lisa Roberts Gillan, and daughter Emma Roberts, also have acting careers.
Roberts was born in Biloxi, Mississippi, to Betty Lou Bredemus (1934-2015) and Walter Grady Roberts (1933-1977), one-time actors and playwrights, who met while touring a production of George Washington Slept Here for the armed forces. In 1963, they co-founded the Atlanta Actors and Writers Workshop in Atlanta, Georgia, off Juniper Street in Midtown. They ran a children's acting school in Decatur, Georgia while they were expecting Julia. Roberts' mother became a church secretary and real estate agent, and his father, a vacuum cleaner salesman. Roberts' younger siblings, Julia Roberts (from whom he was estranged until 2004) and Lisa Roberts Gillan, are also actors.
Roberts' parents filed for divorce in 1971 and it was finalized early in 1972. Eric stayed with his father Walter in Atlanta, estranged from his sisters. Walter died of cancer in March 1977. Lisa, Julia and Betty moved to Smyrna, Georgia, after the divorce. In 1972, Betty married Michael Motes, and had a daughter with him in 1976, Nancy Motes, who died February 9, 2014, at age 37, of an apparent drug overdose. Motes was abusive and often unemployed. In 1983, Betty divorced Motes, citing cruelty and stating that marrying him was the biggest mistake of her life.
Roberts is of English, Scottish, Irish, Welsh, German, and Swedish descent.
Roberts got his start on the now-defunct NBC daytime soap opera Another World originating the role of Ted Bancroft from February 14, 1977, to June 17, 1977.
Roberts received Golden Globe Award nominations for his early starring roles in King of the Gypsies (1978) and Star 80 (1983). He was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor in 1985 for his role as the escaped convict Buck in the film Runaway Train; the award went to Don Ameche in Cocoon. In 1987, he won the Theatre World Award for his Broadway debut performance in Burn This.
Roberts' other starring roles included Raggedy Man (1981), The Pope of Greenwich Village (1984), The Coca-Cola Kid (1985), Nobody's Fool (1986), Best of the Best (1989), By the Sword (1991), Best of the Best 2 (1993), The Immortals (1995), La Cucaracha (1998), Purgatory (1999), and Stiletto Dance (2001). He also had major supporting roles in the films Final Analysis (1992), The Specialist (1994), and Shannon's Rainbow (2009). He played the Archangel Michael in The Prophecy II (1997).
In 1996, he appeared in the Doctor Who Television film in the role of the Master. When SFX listed previous Masters in Doctor Who, the magazine said of Roberts: "Out-acted by a CGI snake in the same production." In a darkly comic touch, the onscreen wife of Roberts' human character, who is killed by her newly possessed husband (who is taken over by the Master in the form of the above-mentioned CGI snake), is played by his real-life wife. He also co-starred in the 1996 television mini-series version of "In Cold Blood," in the role of Perry Smith; he was nominated as Best Actor in a Miniseries or a Motion Picture Made for Television. He starred in C-16 for its entire 1997 to 1998 run.. He starred opposite John Ritter in the movie Tripfall in 1998.
His recent projects include A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints, DOA: Dead or Alive and Royal Kill. He appeared in The Dark Knight as Sal Maroni, a Gotham City Mafia boss who hires The Joker to kill the titular superhero and a renegade mob accountant.
Roberts co-starred on the ABC situation comedy Less than Perfect. He appeared in an episode of CSI: Miami as Ken Kramer, a murderer on death row convicted of killing a young couple. Another notable TV appearance was the episode "Victims" of Law & Order: Special Victims Unit where he played Sam Winfield, a former cop turned vigilante. In the same year, he was also guest starred on The L Word as Gabriel McCutcheon, the father of Shane McCutcheon. In early January 2007, Roberts starred in the two-part miniseries Pandemic as the mayor of Los Angeles.
Roberts voiced the Superman villain Mongul in the animated series Justice League, and reprised his role in Justice League Unlimited in the episode "For the Man Who Has Everything". He performed the voice of Dark Danny in Nickelodeon's Danny Phantom. He appeared in the first season of Heroes as Thompson, an associate of Mr. Bennet. He then reprised the role in the third-season episode "Villains" and in the fourth-season "The Wall".
In 2002 Roberts portrayed a FBI detective in Ja Rule's music video for his song "Down Ass Bitch", as well as its sequel "Down 4 U". Roberts also appeared in The Killers' music video for their song "Mr. Brightside" and "Miss Atomic Bomb" as well as in the music videos for Mariah Carey's "We Belong Together" and "It's Like That". In 2006, he appeared in the video for Akon's "Smack That", featuring Eminem. In 2007, he appeared in the video for Godhead's "Hey You". In 2015 he appeared in the Rihanna video "Bitch Better Have My Money". He appeared as a panelist on the television game show Hollywood Squares. In February 2009, Oscar nominee Mickey Rourke, who starred with Roberts in The Pope of Greenwich Village, said he hoped that Roberts would soon be offered a role which would resurrect his career in the way that The Wrestler rejuvenated Rourke's.
He portrayed Seth Blanchard on the second season of the Starz series Crash, from 2009. In 2009, Roberts appeared as himself in "Tree Trippers", a season five episode of Entourage. He is portrayed as a mushroom and drug fanatic as he gives the boys mushrooms and joins them to Joshua Tree National Park to trip as they contemplate Vince's next movie decision. It was announced in June 2010 that he would be joining the cast of the CBS soap opera The Young and the Restless starting July 12. In 2010, he appeared in the action film The Expendables. Later that year, he appeared alongside Steve Austin and Gary Daniels, his co-stars from The Expendables, in the 2010 action film Hunt to Kill. December 2010 saw the premiere of the fourth season of Celebrity Rehab with Dr. Drew, which documented Roberts' struggle with dependency on medical marijuana. Roberts starred in the 2012 mystery thriller Deadline, playing the role of politically incorrect reporter Ronnie Bullock.
Since 2014 Roberts has played the recurring character Charles Forstman in the TV legal drama Suits.
In 2015, he appeared in season 5 of Lost Girl, a Canadian TV show on Showcase, as the main character, Bo's, father.
Roberts featured in season 4 of the hit American TV show Brooklyn Nine-Nine in which Roberts portrayed the character Jimmy Figgis.
Roberts shared an apartment with Maurice Rizzo Jr. In the late 1980s. Roberts's daughter Emma Roberts, with his then-girlfriend Kelly Cunningham, was born on February 10, 1991. Emma eventually became an actress as well, making her major-film debut at age 10 in the 2001 drama Blow.
On January 12, 2001, Roberts visited The Howard Stern Radio Show with his wife during a segment called "The Gossip Game" with Mike Walker of the National Enquirer. He confirmed that he and Julia had been estranged for several years. The source of the estrangement had been his past drug abuse and her siding with his ex-girlfriend over the custody of his daughter. In 2004, he told People magazine that he and his sister reconciled when he visited her in the hospital after she gave birth to twins.
Roberts is a vegan and supporter of animal rights.
In 1987, Roberts was arrested for possession of cocaine and marijuana, and resisting arrest after he tried to assault a New York police officer. He spent 36 hours in jail, pleaded guilty to harassment, and had all other charges dropped.
In February 1995, Roberts was arrested for shoving his wife, Eliza Garrett, into a wall. He subsequently announced that he was giving up drug use entirely.
In 2011, Roberts appeared as a cast member in the fourth season of the VH1 reality television series Celebrity Rehab with Dr. Drew for dependency on medical marijuana. His wife Eliza and his stepson Keaton Simons appeared in episode 6 to discuss the effects of his addiction on their lives.