Lee Remick was born in Quincy, Massachusetts, the daughter of Gertrude Margaret (two sources say Patricia) (née Waldo), an actress, and Francis Edwin "Frank" Remick, who owned a department store. One of her maternal great-grandmothers, Eliza Duffield, was a preacher born in England and her paternal grandfather was of Irish ancestry. Remick attended the Swaboda School of Dance, the Hewitt School, and studied acting at Barnard College and the Actors Studio, making her Broadway theatre debut in 1953 with Be Your Age.
Remick made her film debut in Elia Kazan's A Face in the Crowd (1957). While filming the movie in Arkansas, Remick lived with a local family and practiced baton twirling so that she would be believable as the teenager who wins the attention of Lonesome Rhodes (played by Andy Griffith).
After appearing as Eula Varner, the hot-blooded daughter-in-law of Will Varner (Orson Welles) in 1958's The Long, Hot Summer, she appeared in These Thousand Hills (1959) as a dance hall girl. Remick came to prominence as a rape victim whose husband is tried for killing her attacker in Otto Preminger's Anatomy of a Murder. In 1960, she made a second film with Kazan, Wild River, which co-starred Montgomery Clift and Jo Van Fleet.
In 1962 she starred opposite Glenn Ford in the Blake Edwards suspense-thriller Experiment in Terror. That same year she was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Actress for her performance as the alcoholic wife of Jack Lemmon in Days of Wine and Roses. Bette Davis, also nominated that year for Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?, said "Miss Remick's performance astonished me, and I thought, if I lose the Oscar, it will be to her." They both lost to Anne Bancroft in The Miracle Worker.
When Marilyn Monroe was fired during the filming of the comedy Something's Got to Give, the studio announced that Remick would be her replacement. Co-star Dean Martin refused to continue, however, saying that while he admired Remick, he had signed onto the picture strictly to be able to work with Monroe.
Remick next appeared in the 1964 Broadway musical Anyone Can Whistle, written by Stephen Sondheim and Arthur Laurents, which ran for only a week. Remick's performance is captured on the original cast recording. This began a lifelong friendship between Remick and Sondheim, and she later appeared in the landmark 1985 concert version of his musical Follies. In 1966, she starred in the Broadway play Wait Until Dark, which was another big success and Remick was nominated for a Tony award for Best Actress (Dramatic). It was adapted into a successful film the following year starring Audrey Hepburn.
Remick continued to star in major films throughout the 1960s and early 1970s, including Baby the Rain Must Fall (1965), No Way to Treat a Lady (1968), The Detective (1968), Sometimes a Great Notion (1971), and A Delicate Balance (1973).
She co-starred with Gregory Peck in the 1976 horror film The Omen, in which her character's adopted son, Damien, is revealed to be the Antichrist. The film was both a critical and commercial success and was regarded as one of the best horror films ever made.
Remick later appeared in several made-for-TV movies and miniseries, for which she earned a total of seven Emmy Award nominations. Several were of a historical nature, including two noted miniseries, Ike, in which she portrayed Kay Summersby, alongside Robert Duvall (her co-star in Wait Until Dark) as General Dwight D. Eisenhower, and Jennie: Lady Randolph Churchill where she portrayed Winston Churchill's mother, the American debutante Jennie Jerome who married Lord Randolph Churchill.
Remick was awarded the Women in Film Crystal Award in 1990.
She has a star in the Motion Pictures section on the Hollywood Walk of Fame at 6104 Hollywood Boulevard. (The Hollywood Walk of Fame site lists it at 1615 Vine Street.) It was dedicated April 29, 1991.
Remick married producer Bill Colleran in 1957. They had two children, Katherine Lee Colleran (b. 1959) and Matthew Remick Colleran (b. 1961). Remick and Colleran divorced in 1968. She married British producer William Rory "Kip" Gowans in December 1970. She moved with Gowans to England and remained married to him until her death. Remick and Gowans spent time in both England and Osterville, Massachusetts which she considered her "true home". Through her daughter, Remick has two grandchildren, Remick Rose Minelian (b. 1993) and Georgia Lee Minelian (b. 1997).
Remick died of kidney and liver cancer on July 2, 1991, at the age of 55, at her home in Los Angeles. Survivors included her husband, her son, her daughter, two stepdaughters, and her mother.
Remick was the subject of The Go-Betweens' first single, "Lee Remick", as well as Hefner's 1998 single of the same title (the two songs are unrelated).