In 2003, Howard was awarded the National Medal of Arts. Asteroid 12561 Howard is named after him. He was inducted into the Television Hall of Fame in 2013. Howard has two stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame for his contributions in the television and motion pictures industries.
Howard was born in Duncan, Oklahoma, the elder son of Jean Speegle Howard, an actress, and Rance Howard, a director, a writer, and actor. He has German, English, Scottish, Irish, and Dutch ancestry. His father was born with the surname "Beckenholdt", and had taken the stage name "Howard" by 1948, for his acting career. Rance Howard was serving three years in the United States Air Force at the time of Ron's birth. The family moved to Hollywood in 1958, the year before the birth of his younger brother, Clint Howard. They rented a house on the block south of the Desilu Studios, where The Andy Griffith Show was later filmed. They lived in Hollywood for at least three years, before moving to Burbank.
Howard was tutored at Desilu Studios in his younger years, and graduated from John Burroughs High School. He later attended the University of Southern California's School of Cinematic Arts but did not graduate.
Howard has said he knew from a young age he might want to go into directing thanks to his early experience as an actor.
In 1959, Howard had his first credited film role, in The Journey. He appeared in June Allyson's CBS anthology series The DuPont Show with June Allyson in the episode "Child Lost"; in The Twilight Zone episode "Walking Distance"; a few episodes of the first season of the sitcom Dennis the Menace, as Stewart, one of Dennis's friends; and several first and second-season episodes of The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis. Howard played "Timmy" (uncredited) in "Counterfeit Gun", Season 4, Episode 2 (1960) of the TV series, "The Cheyenne Show."
In 1960, Howard was cast as Opie Taylor in The Andy Griffith Show. Credited as "Ronny Howard", he portrayed the son of the title character (played by Andy Griffith) for all eight seasons of the show. He and Griffith remained close until Griffith's death nearly 45 years later.
In the 1962 film version of The Music Man, Howard played Winthrop Paroo, the child with the lisp; the film starred Robert Preston and Shirley Jones. He also starred in the 1963 film The Courtship of Eddie's Father, with Glenn Ford.
He appeared as Barry Stewart on The Eleventh Hour, in the episode "Is Mr. Martian Coming Back?" in 1965; on I Spy, in the episode "Little Boy Lost", in 1966; as Henry Fonda's son in an ABC series, The Smith Family, in 1968 as Jodah, in "Land of the Giants", in 1969 as a boy whose father was shot on the TV show "Daniel Boone", in 1971–72; and as an underage Marine on M*A*S*H in the episode "Sometimes You Hear the Bullet", in 1973. In the 1970s, he appeared in at least one episode of The Bold Ones, as a teenage tennis player with an illness.
Howard appeared on the 1969 Disneyland Records album The Story and Song from the Haunted Mansion. It featured the story of two teenagers, Mike (Howard) and Karen (Robie Lester), who get trapped inside the Haunted Mansion. Thurl Ravenscroft plays the Narrator, Pete Reneday plays the Ghost Host, and Eleanor Audley plays Madame Leota. Some of the effects and ideas that were planned but never permanently made it to the attraction are mentioned here: the Raven speaks in the Stretching Room, and the Hatbox Ghost is mentioned during the Attic scene. It was reissued in 1998 as a cassette tape titled A Spooky Night in Disney's Haunted Mansion and on CD in 2009.
In 1974 Howard guest starred as Seth Turner, the best friend of Jason Walton (Jon Walmsley), in The Waltons, "The Gift". In the episode, Seth wants to learn to play an instrument in his father's band, but it looks as if he will not have the time; he has been diagnosed with leukemia. The concept of death — and the unfairness of it all — is an extremely difficult one for Jason to accept, and it is up to Grandpa to help the boy through this crisis. Featured in the cast as Dr. McIvers is Ron Howard's father Rance Howard.
Howard played Steve Bolander in George Lucas's coming-of-age film American Graffiti in 1973. A role in an installment of series Love, American Style, titled "Love and the Television Set", led to his being cast as Richie Cunningham in the TV series Happy Days (for syndication, the segment was re-titled "Love and the Happy Days"). Beginning in 1974, he played the likeable "buttoned-down" boy, in contrast to Henry Winkler's "greaser" Arthur "Fonzie"/"The Fonz" Fonzarelli. On the Happy Days set, he developed an on- and off-screen chemistry with series leads Winkler and Tom Bosley. The three remained friends until Bosley's death in October 2010.
In 1976, Howard played Gillom Rogers in the movie The Shootist, with John Wayne. Howard's last significant on-screen role was a reprisal of his famous role as Opie Taylor in the 1986 TV movie Return to Mayberry, an Andy Griffith Show reunion reuniting him with Griffith, Don Knotts, and most of the cast. He also appeared in two Happy Days TV reunions: 1992's The Happy Days Reunion Special, a retrospective hosted by Winkler that aired on ABC; and 2005's The Happy Days 30th Anniversary Reunion, where he was reunited with most of the surviving cast.
Before leaving Happy Days in 1980, Howard made his directing debut with the 1977 low-budget comedy/action film Grand Theft Auto. This came after cutting a deal with Roger Corman, wherein Corman let Howard direct a film in exchange for Howard starring in Eat My Dust!, with Christopher Norris. Howard went on to direct several TV movies. His big theatrical break came in 1982, with Night Shift, featuring Michael Keaton, Shelley Long, and Henry Winkler.
He has since directed a number of high-visibility films, including Splash, Cocoon, Willow, Parenthood, Backdraft, Apollo 13, How the Grinch Stole Christmas, A Beautiful Mind (for which he won the Academy Award for Best Director), Cinderella Man, The Da Vinci Code, Angels & Demons, Rush, In the Heart of the Sea and Inferno.
Howard showcased the world premiere of his film Frost/Nixon at the 2008 London Film Festival in October 2008.
Howard was the recipient of the Austin Film Festival's 2009 Extraordinary Contribution to Filmmaking Award. Michael Keaton presented him with the Award.
On June 22, 2017 it was announced that Howard will take over directing duties on the Untitled Han Solo film, a film based on Star Wars character Han Solo in his younger years. The film is due for release on May 25, 2018. Howard replaces directors Phil Lord and Christopher Miller who were let go from their position a two days earlier, reportedly due to their refusal to compromise with Lucasfilm over the direction of the film and going off script, trying to make the film more of a comedy. The film was nearly completed with three and a half weeks left before it wrapped and another five weeks of reshoots scheduled. Howard posted on Twitter his response to taking over directing duties on the film saying "I'm beyond grateful to add my voice to the Star Wars Universe after being a fan since 5/25/77. I hope to honor the great work already done & help deliver on the promise of a Han Solo film."
Howard is the co-chairman, with Brian Grazer, of Imagine Entertainment, a film and television production company. Imagine has produced several films including Friday Night Lights, 8 Mile, and Inside Deep Throat, as well as the television series 24, Felicity, and Arrested Development which Howard also narrated.
In July 2012 it was announced Imagine had put in development Conquest for Showtime. A period drama based on the 16th century conquest of the Aztecs by Spanish Conquistadors. To be directed by Howard, the series was originally planned as a feature film before it being decided that the project was more suited to television.
As part of Imagine Entertainment, he appeared in a 1997 print ad for Milk – Where's your mustache?, in which he wore a cap for Imagine Entertainment and sported a milk mustache. Earlier versions show a younger Ronny Howard on the other side.
In 2009, He appeared in the Jamie Foxx music video "Blame It".
Howard married writer Cheryl Alley (b. 1953) on June 7, 1975. They have four children: daughters Bryce Dallas Howard (b. 1981), twins Jocelyn Carlyle and Paige Howard (b. 1985), and son Reed Cross (b. 1987).
Howard, a Democrat, supported Barack Obama in both his successful campaigns for President of the United States.