Parks was born in Corona, California, the son of baseball player Harry Parks.
He drifted from job to job during his teenage years, including picking fruit, digging ditches, driving trucks, and fighting forest fires. He was briefly married at the age of 16, the marriage produced a daughter, Kim.
His second marriage at age 24 to actress Jane Moriarty lasted only a few months, ending with her apparent suicide from overdose. His third marriage produced a son, James. After living some time in New Orleans in the eighties and ending his fourth marriage in 1991, he moved back to California. In 1997 he married Oriana in a private ceremony with no attendants. The union lasted till his death.
In 1961, Parks portrayed the nephew of the character George MacMichael on the ABC sitcom The Real McCoys. He appeared as Cal Leonard in the 1963 Perry Mason episode "The Case of Constant Doyle", and gained recognition in the role of Adam in John Huston's The Bible: In the Beginning... (1966).
His other early roles included an appearance in two NBC series: the legal drama Sam Benedict, as Larry Wilcox in the 1962 episode "Too Many Strangers", and the medical drama The Eleventh Hour, as Mark Reynolds in the 1963 segment "Pressure Breakdown". He also appeared in The China Lake Murders and Stranger by Night, having portrayed a police officer in both.
Parks was the star of the series Then Came Bronson from 1969 to 1970. He sang the theme song for the show, "Long Lonesome Highway", which became a #20 Billboard Hot 100 and #41 Hot Country Songs hit. Albums he recorded under MGM Records (the label of the studio which produced the series) include Closing The Gap (1969), Long Lonesome Highway (1970), and Blue.
He had various records of songs included on these albums. He played in twelve episodes as, first Hoyt Parker, and then Phillip Colby during the second season (1986–1987) of ABC's Dynasty spin-off series The Colbys. He appeared as Irish mob boss Tommy O'Shea in Death Wish V: The Face of Death (1994), French-Canadian drug runner Jean Renault in the ABC television series Twin Peaks, Dr. Banyard in Deceiver (1997), Texas Ranger Earl McGraw in From Dusk till Dawn (1996), and Ambrose Bierce in From Dusk Till Dawn 3: The Hangman's Daughter (2000).
Parks played two roles in the Kill Bill film series, reprising the role of Earl McGraw in the first film and playing Esteban Vihaio in the second film. He most recently reprised the role of Earl McGraw in both segments of the film Grindhouse. His son, James Parks, played the son of Earl McGraw in Kill Bill, From Dusk Till Dawn 2: Texas Blood Money, Death Proof and Planet Terror. Parks played a villain in Kevin Smith's horror films Red State (2011) and Tusk (2014).
Smith later announced on his podcast that Parks had recorded an album during Red State's production, after Smith and producer Jon Gordon noticed his singing talent during filming. The album, titled The Red State Sessions, was released on August 15, 2011 as a download from the film's website.
Parks died on May 9, 2017 in his Los Angeles home at the age of 77. The cause of death was not disclosed. He requested a burial at sea which his wife attended alone. The public funeral was held at Westwood Memorial.
Upon hearing the news, director Kevin Smith posted on his Instagram account "Michael was, and will likely forever remain, the best actor I've ever known. I wrote both [Red State] and [Tusk] for Parks, I loved his acting so much." he also added, "He was, hands-down, the most incredible thespian I ever had the pleasure to watch perform. And Parks brought out the absolute best in me every time he got near my set." In a Twitter post director Robert Rodriguez referred to Michael Parks as "a true legend".1969 – Closing The Gap (MGM)
1970 – Long Lonesome Highway (MGM)
1970 – Blue (MGM)
1970 – Lost & Found (Verve)
1971 – Best Of Michael Parks (MGM)
1981 – You Don't Know Me (First American)
1998 – Coolin' Soup (Listen)
2011 – The Red State Sessions (SModcast)
Singles include Long Lonesome Highway/Mountain High (MGM K 14104); Big "T" Water/Won't You Ride In My Little Red Wagon (MGM K 14363); Tie Me To Your Apron Strings Again (MGM K 14092); Sally/Spend A Little, Save A Little, Give A Little Away (MGM K 14154) (all from 1970).