Conway was born in Willoughby, Ohio, a suburb of Cleveland, and grew up in nearby Chagrin Falls. He is Irish on his father's side and Romanian on his mother's.
Conway attended Bowling Green State University in Bowling Green, Ohio, where he majored in speech and radio, and was a member of the Phi Delta Theta Fraternity. When he graduated, he enlisted the United States Army to fulfill his military obligation.
After his discharge from the Army, Conway returned to Cleveland and worked with Ernie Anderson on KYW-TV, an NBC affiliate, in 1958 and 1959. From 1960 to 1962, he was on WJW-TV (then a CBS affiliate, now a Fox affiliate) on a weekday morning film (under the Ernie's Place banner), where he also wrote material for the comedic skits shown in between film intermissions. Conway also recorded a comedy album with Anderson, who himself gained national prominence as a voice over announcer for ABC Television in the 1970s.
WJW dismissed Conway in 1962, in part because he (and Anderson) misled station management into thinking he had experience as a director. Because of this move, which deprived Anderson of his co-host and comic foil, the station asked Anderson if he could host a B-grade (and lower) horror film show on Friday nights instead. Conway continued to make many appearances alongside Anderson's alter ego Ghoulardi, in addition to "Big Chuck" Schodowski, a station engineer who Anderson got to assume much of Conway's sidekick status (and who ultimately succeeded Anderson as co-host of the horror film program).
After he became famous, Conway resurfaced periodically on Cleveland television on the Hoolihan and Big Chuck and Big Chuck and Lil' John shows on WJW-TV, in guest spots and occasional skits. Conway has since made regular guest appearances at numerous "Ghoulardifest" functions held by WJW over the years, along with former Cleveland TV personality Bob "Hoolihan" Wells, in tribute to Anderson, who died in 1997.
Comedic actress Rose Marie visited WJW in 1961, as part of CBS's promotional practice of sending their major show stars directly to local affiliates: in this case, it was for The Dick Van Dyke Show. She viewed tapes of some of Anderson and Conway's skits and proceeded to take Conway under her wing. Following his departure from WJW, Conway moved to New York City; where, with Rose Marie's assistance, he auditioned for, and gained a spot on, ABC's The Steve Allen Show as a regular player. Conway (who by this point had officially changed his first name to Tim) continued on the show through its entire run.
Conway gained a national following from his role as the bumbling, naive Ensign Charles Parker, Executive Officer of the World War II PT-73, in the 1960s sitcom McHale's Navy, alongside Ernest Borgnine and Joe Flynn. Borgnine became a mentor and a good friend. Conway appeared at Borgnine's 90th birthday celebration and, four years later, paid tribute to his friend at 7th Annual Screen Actors Guild Awards on TNT. Conway said, "Borgnine was 'like a big teddy bear' and 'a very pleasant person to be around' when he worked with him on the World War Two sitcom 'McHale's Navy'."
Afterwards, he starred in a string of short-lived TV series, starting with 1967's Rango which starred Conway as an incompetent Texas Ranger.
Conway was part of one of the most infamous network TV programming catastrophes ever: Turn-On, a counter-cultural sketch comedy show on ABC was derided as a ripoff of NBC's Rowan and Martin's Laugh-In. Ironically, Turn-On was created and directed by Laugh-In's creator George Schlatter. Even though Conway was listed only as a guest star on the pilot, which ABC broadcast on February 5, 1969, it was the only episode that ever aired.
Turn-On was so far ahead of its time in terms of comedic treatment of sexuality that the show received enough immediate, negative reaction to force several ABC affiliates, including WEWS in Conway's hometown of Cleveland, to refuse to return to the program after the first commercial break. WEWS management also sent an angrily-worded telegram to the network's headquarters. Many West Coast affiliates received advance warning and refused to air the show. Conway remarked that the show's premiere party he attended also marked the program's cancellation party, but ABC did not officially cancel the program for several days.
In 1970, The Tim Conway Show paired Conway with Joe Flynn of McHale's Navy in a sitcom as owner-pilots of a one-plane (a Beechcraft Model 18 named Lucky Linda) airline operated by the pair. Having "nowhere to run", this pressurized situation was ideal for the fast repartee of the lead actors. It debuted in January 1970 and the last new show aired in June 1970. In the fall of the same year, Conway was given his own hour-long variety show, The Tim Conway Comedy Hour, or The Tim Conway Comedy House, which, as his other series had, folded quickly, lasting only 13 weeks. Typical of his self-effacing humor, he ordered his car's license plate to reflect the short duration of the series: "13 WKS". (Conway was given another one-hour variety show ten years later, which revived the title The Tim Conway Show; see later section.)
Beginning in 1975, Conway was often paired with Don Knotts in family films from Disney, including The Apple Dumpling Gang and its 1979 sequel, The Apple Dumpling Gang Rides Again. They also starred in two independent films, a boxing comedy called The Prize Fighter in 1979, and a 1980 mystery comedy film called The Private Eyes. In 1983, he starred in another TV show, Ace Crawford, Private Eye, a parody of detective series; it lasted only five episodes.
Starting with the 1975–76 season, Conway became a regular on The Carol Burnett Show, after having been a frequent guest for the show's first eight seasons. Conway's work on the show earned him five Emmy Awards. Two of Conway's memorable characters on the Burnett Show were:The Oldest Man, whose shaggy white hair, slow speech, and shuffling gait ran counter to the much-needed energy levels of the various occupations he was usually found in. His comic inability to get said jobs done — usually with slapstick results to himself, and with many an ad-lib — both frustrated and 'broke up' his fellow sketch performers.
Mr. Tudball, a businessman whose intentions of running a 'ship-shape' office were usually sunk by the bored indifference of his secretary, Mrs. Wiggins (Burnett). Although the character was widely thought to be Swedish, Conway used a Romanian accent learned from his mother. For example, his attempts to pronounce his secretary's name came out as "Mrs. Ah-huh-wiggins". He also used this accent for other characters, such as an inept dentist.
Conway could also get results with no dialogue, such as in a sketch in which he played a tired businessman seeking restful sleep in his hotel — and pestered by a housefly, created only by a sound effect and Conway's gazing after it. After much struggle, he manages to get the fly out of the room through the window; after returning to bed, he hears a persistent knock on his door, gets up to answer it, and opens the door, letting the fly (who was doing the knocking) back in.
Another skit, also without a word from Conway, featured him playing Simba, a lion raised by humans then released to the wild (based on the lioness Elsa in the film Born Free). Conway, told of the upcoming eviction from the comfortable home, caused Burnett and Harvey Korman to break up with an interminable process of packing to leave.
A prime example of his ability to make his co-stars laugh uncontrollably involved Lyle Waggoner as a captured American airman, with Conway as a stereotypical blond-haired Gestapo agent charged with his interrogation. Stating that "the Fuhrer" had taken particular interest, Conway produces a small Hitler hand puppet. With Conway providing a falsetto voice, the puppet suggests that singing might relax Waggoner's character to the point he is willing to talk. In a long, drawn-out fashion, the Hitler puppet sings "I've Been Working on the Railroad", and with each passing verse, Waggoner loses more of his composure, finally laughing hysterically when puppet-Hitler screeches, "FEE-FI-Fiddely-I-O!"
Conway remained a regular cast member of The Carol Burnett Show until the program's run ended, in 1978.
In 1980, Conway again was given his own one-hour variety program, titled The Tim Conway Show (the title that was previously used for his 1970 sitcom). It aired on CBS, as his previous shows had, and debuted on March 22, 1980. It was originally a full hour but was reduced to half an hour in summer 1980. It lasted longer than any of his earlier self-titled series, ending in August 1981. The format was similar to that of The Carol Burnett Show, with several regular cast members performing in comedy sketches, interspersed with the occasional musical performance by a guest musician. Among the regulars in the cast were, Maggie Roswell, Miriam Flynn, Eric Boardman, Jack Riley, and Dick Orkin. Former Burnett cast member Harvey Korman also became a Tim Conway Show regular in late 1980, after having earlier made guest appearances on the show, as had Carol Burnett and Vicki Lawrence.
In the spring of 1983, Conway starred in another situation comedy, Ace Crawford, Private Eye; a spoof of detective shows, it lasted only a month. In the summer of 1990, he starred in Tim Conway's Funny America, playing pranks in disguise on unsuspecting passersby around the United States while hidden cameras recorded the results, which Conway presented to a studio audience; it, too, lasted only a few weeks.
Conway's more recent work includes a series of satirical how-to videos in which he plays a diminutive, dark-haired Scandinavian known as Dorf (a variation on "dwarf"), reprising his goofy Mr. Tudball accent. The Dorf character first appeared in the 1987 film Dorf on Golf and has since appeared in eight other films on a variety of sports from baseball to auto racing. Dorf on Golf was remastered for DVD in 2007. In 2010, all of the Dorf films were remastered in a DVD Collection featuring all eight films, a behind-the-scenes with Dorf, and a commentary track by Tim Conway on "The Legend of the Paddle: The Oldie Hollis Story". Dorf also appeared on an episode of Tim Conway's Funny America in the summer of 1990, leading an aerobics class on his impossibly short legs.
In 2009, Conway's Dorf character started "helping" Santa Claus on the website iSpotSanta, created by comedy filmmaker Pasquale Murena and Anything Goes Productions. Each year, Dorf has three sketches; in 2009, he tried to give Santa his Christmas list, failing and accidentally hitting Santa with a golf ball. Then, in 2010, he tried to give all of the world's letters to Santa directly using jet rockets to fly to his sleigh, cannonballs, and more.
Conway has also made many guest appearances and other roles in television.
He guest-starred in ABC's Coach, for which he received the Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Guest Actor in a Comedy Series playing Kenny Montague in the 1996 episode "The Gardener". Conway won another Emmy Award for Outstanding Guest Actor in a Comedy Series for his role as Bucky Bright in the 30 Rock episode "Subway Hero", which initially aired on April 17, 2008.
His other TV roles include:1963: Channing, playing a job applicant
1973: The New Scooby Doo Movies, voiced himself in the episode "The Spirited Spooked Sports Show"
1991: Carol & Company; a cameo appearance as audience member in the episode "That Little Extra Something"
1995–96: Married... with Children as Ephraim Wanker, hillbilly father of Peg Bundy in four episodes
1997/99: Diagnosis: Murder, appears in two episodes; in "Comedy is Murder", he and Harvey Korman play former comedy partners Tim Conrad and Harvey Huckaby (A clip of the well-known dentist sketch from The Carol Burnett Show was used to illustrate their partnership)
1999–present: SpongeBob SquarePants, voicing the character "Barnacle Boy" (14 episodes), a recurring role pairing up as the sidekick to his old McHale's Navy co-star, Ernest Borgnine (as Mermaid Man) (Now Joe Whyte from July 9, 2012 – present because Borgnine died of a Kidney failure on July 8, 2012.)
2001–05: Yes Dear, a recurring role as Tom Warner, the father of Greg, with Carol Burnett Show co-star Vicki Lawrence playing his wife
2003: On The Spot, short-lived WB Network comedy, as Mr. Henderson
2003–10: Hermie and Friends, Max Lucado's animated video series, providing the voice of the title character in eight episodes
2008: Garfield's Fun Fest, voicing Freddy Frog and other characters
2008: 30 Rock, as Bucky Bright, a washed up star from the 1940s and 1950s
2010, 2013: Hot in Cleveland, in the episodes "It's Not That Complicated" and "Canoga Falls" (in which he is reunited with Carol Burnett)
2010–11: WordGirl, voicing Bampy Botsford and Museum Security Guard
2011: Batman: The Brave and the Bold, voicing the Weeper in the episode "Joker: The Vile and the Villainous!"
2011: Wizards of Waverly Place, as Cragmont in the episode "Justin's Back In"
2013: Mike & Molly, as Brian in the episode "School Recital"
2013: Major Crimes, as a tenant of Shangri-La Apartments in "There's No Place Like Home"
2014: Two and a Half Men, as a guest at Marty's stag party in "Bite Me, Supreme Court"
2014: Glee, as an old man who plays in Peter Pan in "Old Dog New Tricks"
He has lent his voice to other TV shows including The Simpsons, Disney spin-off Hercules, Lloyd in Space, The Wild Thornberrys, Cybill, What's New, Scooby-Doo?, The Proud Family, Scooby-Doo! Pirates Ahoy!, Caillou, and What's with Andy?. He also narrated The Secret Shortcut in Reading Rainbow and hosted The Flintstones' 25th Anniversary Celebration.
In 2002, Conway was inducted into the Television Hall of Fame.
On his 75th birthday in 2008, Conway was interviewed as a guest on The Bonnie Hunt Show and given a surprise cake by Bob Newhart.
He starred in Disney films such as The World's Greatest Athlete (1973), The Apple Dumpling Gang (1975), Gus (1976), and The Apple Dumpling Gang Rides Again (1979). He starred in the 1977 comedy film The Billion Dollar Hobo. Conway also co-starred with Don Knotts in The Prize Fighter (1979) and The Private Eyes (1980). The Longshot Horse Race comedy starring Tim Conway (1986). Conway also appeared with Dick Martin in Air Bud: Golden Receiver (1998) as Fred Davis, the main announcer for the Timberwolves' final game, with Martin as his co-announcer, Phil Phil. He was Herman Dooly in the 1996 film, Dear God.
Conway and Harvey Korman created a Collector's Edition DVD of new comedy sketches, titled Together Again; sold through Conway's official website and produced by Pasquale Murena.
Starting in 2003, Conway teamed up with good friend Don Knotts again to provide voices for the direct-to-video children's series Hermie and Friends, which continued until Knotts' death in 2006. Conway continued to do the series.
In 2007, he hosted "Thou Shalt Laugh 2: The Deuce", a collection of Christian stand-up comedians.
In 2012-13, he voiced the character 'Mulch' in DreamWorks' "Dragons: Riders of Berk" series.
In 2014, he played Professor VanVanguard, a knowledgeable character of the lives, characteristics and treating of zombies in the award-winning feature film "Chip & Bernie's Zomance".
Conway has collaborated with some of the funniest and most talented people in Hollywood and has kept long-time collaborations with many of them.
Conway first met Harvey Korman in 1966 while a guest, the first of three, on The Danny Kaye Show. Korman was a four year series regular on Kaye's CBS variety hour. 1967 saw the end of the Kaye show and the debut of The Carol Burnett Show. With Korman available, he stepped into a regular role there. Conway appeared as a guest during that first Burnett season and the two men immediately became friends starting a lifetime of working together until Korman's death in 2008. One of their most famous sketches was from The Carol Burnett Show called "The Dentist Sketch." In this sketch, Korman goes to the just-graduated dentist Conway for a toothache. Conway proceeds to remove Korman's tooth, but before he can inject the novocaine into Korman, he injects it into himself, causing his head, hand, and leg to go numb.
Korman and Conway performed together for 10 years on The Carol Burnett Show before Korman left to pursue his own show. Korman joined Conway on Conway's shows and then later on in the 1986 film The Longshot, which Conway wrote for the two men. Conway also wrote the direct-to-video films Tim and Harvey in The Great Outdoors and Together Again with Tim and Harvey, which the comedy pair starred in together. The DVD Together Again with Tim and Harvey was a recording of their touring stage show that ran over 10 years to sold out markets until Korman's death in 2008. Conway has referred to Korman as, "The smartest man I knew but couldn't tie his shoelaces".
When Conway was starting his career in Hollywood, so was Don Knotts. Both men were regulars on The Steve Allen Show, though at different times. They didn't have the chance to work together until Disney Studios paired the two men on the Apple Dumpling Gang series of films, and their comedy clicked; Knotts's boisterous, Barney Fife-style bungling both contrasted and meshed with Conway's quieter form of physical comedy. The first film starred Bill Bixby and Susan Clark in 1975 and was called The Apple Dumpling Gang. The film centered around Bixby being tricked into taking care of a trio of orphans as the pair of lovable holdup men named Amos Tucker (Conway) and Theodore Ogelvie (Knotts) attempt to steal the gold nugget the children find. The film was a commercial success, and a sequel was made starring the pair in 1979 called The Apple Dumpling Gang Rides Again. The sequel did not have the other cast members but was hugely profitable for Disney.
Conway wrote two other films for the pair to star in together starting with The Prize Fighter in 1979 and The Private Eyes in 1980. Both were independently produced and the highest grossing independent films of those years. They had a cameo in the Cannonball Run II film together and in later years voiced characters Hermie and Wormie in numerous children's shows from Max Lucado.
In 2007, Conway met filmmaker Pasquale Murena when Murena was brought in to direct additional scenes and edit the direct-to-DVD film Legend of the Paddle, starring Conway. The two men subsequently worked together on numerous productions, including Murena producing the DVD releases of Together Again with Tim and Harvey, the re-releases of Tim and Harvey in The Great Outdoors, Dorf on Golf, and Dorf Goes Fishing. Murena directed, produced and co-wrote with Conway six Dorf comedy sketches for the DVD release of The Ultimate Dorf DVD Collection, which has sold over 3 million copies.
Starting in 2009, the two men collaborated on their first sketches for the website iSpotSanta, where Dorf helps Santa deliver presents, and works at the North Pole as Santa's #1 elf. They have done over 25 comedy sketches and three short films for the website, while garnering over 35 million viewers. Conway was quoted in an interview on the Disney Channel, stating that, "Pasquale has done more with Dorf then I ever imagined. We love making these films for kids." Continuing their success, Murena cast Conway as Professor VanVanGuard in his award-winning first feature film in 2014 called, Chip & Bernie's Zomance, with Conway adding his unique humor to this zombie film.
Conway first pitched the idea of Ernie Anderson and him doing a late night show together in Cleveland during the 1960s and that is where Rose Marie found Conway and got him a role on The Steve Allen Show. Before that, the duo recorded two comedy albums together: Are We On? (1966) and Bull (1967). Anderson turned to doing voiceovers after Conway moved on, but their collaborations continued with Conway's string of shows and Anderson's career as "The Voice of ABC". Anderson performed on sketches and was the voiceover talent for The Carol Burnett Show. teaming the pair together.
Anderson become a cult icon in Cleveland as the character Ghoulardi during his own late night television show, where he showed horror B movies to viewers. In 2013, Conway went to the Ghoulardi Fest to promote his book and show his love for his friend Anderson.
Conway has been married twice. He was married to Mary Anne Dalton from 1961 until 1978. They had seven children together. He has been married to Charlene Fusco since May 18, 1984. Among Tim Conway's children is KFI Los Angeles radio host Tim Conway, Jr.
Interviewed by Raymond Arroyo on his EWTN program The World Over on October 2, 2014, Conway revealed that he had converted to the Catholic faith.
On June 6–8, 2010, Conway returned to his hometown of Chagrin Falls to put on fund-raising performances at the Chagrin Valley Little Theatre to help kick off its capital campaign.
He is a spokesperson for the United Leukodystrophy Foundation.
A fan of thoroughbred horse racing, and an occasional racehorse owner, Conway is a co-founder and vice-president of the Board of Directors of the Don MacBeth Memorial Jockey Fund.