He twice won the Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Comedy Series, twice won the Tony Award for Best Actor in a Play, won the Golden Globe Award for Best Actor – Television Series Musical or Comedy and has been nominated for the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor.
Hirsch was born in The Bronx, a borough of New York City, New York, the son of Sally (née Kitzis) and Joseph Sidney Hirsch, an electrician. Hirsch's father was born in New York, to a German Jewish father, Benjamin Hirsch, and an English-born mother, Rosa Hirsch (née Benjamin), whose family were Dutch Jews. Hirsch's mother was born in Russia, also to a Jewish family. Hirsch has a brother named Roland Hirsch.
He grew up in both Brooklyn and The Bronx and graduated from DeWitt Clinton High School (in The Bronx) in 1952. He earned a degree in physics from City College of New York.
After graduating from college, Hirsch served a tour in the United States Army. Hirsch worked as an engineer for Westinghouse before he found work in the theater.
Over the last several decades, Hirsch has distinguished himself in film, television, and theatre. The Los Angeles Times noted that Hirsch is "one of the very few actors who slips effortlessly from TV series to Broadway to feature films and back again, racking up awards and favorable reviews wherever he performs."
After appearing frequently on television in the 1970s, Hirsch gained stardom for his lead role of Alex Rieger in the popular sitcom Taxi, which ran from 1978 to 1983. For his performance in the series, in 1981 and again in 1983, Judd Hirsch won the Emmy Award for Lead Actor In a Comedy Series. Hirsch went on to play the title character on the modestly successful sitcom Dear John and in 1989 won a Golden Globe Award for Best Actor in a Television Series in a Comedy or Musical for this role. He later teamed with Bob Newhart in the short-lived comedy George and Leo. He had also previously starred for one season in the series Delvecchio, playing a police detective (1976–1977).
In film, Hirsch received a nomination for the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor for his role in the drama film Ordinary People (1980). His other 1980s films include the 1983 drama Without a Trace, the 1984 dramedies, Teachers and The Goodbye People, and the 1988 drama, Running on Empty, directed by Sidney Lumet and co-starring River Phoenix. In 1996 Hirsch portrayed the father of Jeff Goldblum's character in the blockbuster Independence Day, and in 2001 he played a professor in the acclaimed A Beautiful Mind.
Hirsch co-starred on the CBS Television drama, NUMB3RS (2005-2010), as Alan Eppes, father of FBI agent, Don Eppes (Rob Morrow), and Professor Charlie Eppes (David Krumholtz). When Krumholtz was 13, he played son to Hirsch's father role in Conversations with My Father, a Herb Gardner play for which Hirsch won the Tony Award for Best Performance by a Leading Actor in a Play. Krumholtz credits Hirsch with jump-starting his career after Hirsch chose him during the audition process for Conversations. Other noteworthy stage performances include The Hot l Baltimore, Talley's Folly, and his starring role in I'm Not Rappaport, for which Hirsch also won a Tony Award in 1986.
More recently, Hirsch guest-starred on episodes of Warehouse 13, Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip, Law & Order: SVU, and The Whole Truth (which saw him reunite with Numb3rs co-star Rob Morrow), among others, and lent his voice to the animated programs Tom Goes to the Mayor and American Dad! In 1999, he reprised his role from Taxi for a brief moment in Man on the Moon, the biopic of his co-star from Taxi, Andy Kaufman (portrayed by Jim Carrey). Judd has also appeared several times on the television show Maron as comedian Marc Maron's father.
From 2014 to 2015, he appeared as a series regular on the ABC television series Forever.
In 2016 Hirsch appeared on the CBS comedy series The Big Bang Theory portraying Leonard's (Johnny Galecki) father.
In February 2017, Hirsch began starring in the CBS comedy Superior Donuts.
Hirsch was married to his first wife, Elisa Sadaune, from 1956 to 1967. Their son, Alexander, was born in 1966. Hirsch married Bonni Sue Chalkin, a fashion designer, in 1992 and the couple divorced in 2005. From this second marriage, Hirsch has a daughter, Montana, and son, London.