George Campbell Scott was born October 18, 1927, in Wise, Virginia, the son of Helena Agnes (née Slemp; 1904–1935) and George Dewey Scott (1902–1988). His mother died just before his eighth birthday, and he was raised by his Father, an executive at Buick. Scott's original ambition was to be a Writer like his favorite author, F. Scott Fitzgerald; while attending Redford High School in Detroit, he wrote many short stories, none of which was ever published. As an adult, he tried on many occasions to write a novel, but was never able to complete one to his satisfaction.
Scott joined the United States Marine Corps, serving from 1945 to 1949. He was assigned to 8th and I Barracks in Washington, DC, in which capacity he taught English literature and radio speaking/writing at the Marine Corps Institute. His primary duty, however, was as an honor guard for military funerals at Arlington National Cemetery. He later said his duties at Arlington led to his drinking. After his military Service, Scott enrolled in the University of Missouri, where he majored in journalism and then became interested in drama. His first public appearance on stage was as the barrister in a university production of Terence Rattigan's The Winslow Boy, directed by H. Donovan Rhynsburger. During rehearsals for that show, he made his first stage appearance—in a student production of Noël Coward's Hands Across the Sea, directed by Jerry V. Tobias. He graduated from the university in 1953 with degrees in English and theater.
He had a daughter, Michelle (b. 1954), with Karen Truesdell.
Scott first rose to prominence for his work with Joseph Papp's New York Shakespeare Festival. In 1958, he won an Obie Award for his performances in Children of Darkness (in which he made the first of many appearances opposite his Future wife, Actress Colleen Dewhurst), for As You Like It, and for playing the title character in william Shakespeare's Richard III (a performance one critic said was the "angriest" Richard III of all time).
Scott continued to appear in and sometimes direct Broadway productions throughout the 1960s. The most commercially successful show in which he worked was Neil Simon's Plaza Suite (1968). The show was composed of three separate one-act plays all using the same set, with Scott portraying a different lead character in each act; it ran for 1,097 performances.
He made many television appearances, including an episode of NBC's The Virginian, in the episode "The Brazen Bell", in which he recites Oscar Wilde's poem "The Ballad Of Reading Gaol". That same year, he appeared in NBC's medical drama The Eleventh Hour, in the episode "I Don't Belong in a White-Painted House". He appeared opposite Laurence Olivier and Julie Harris in Graham Greene's The Power and the Glory in a 1961 television production.
In 1963, Scott starred in the hour-long television drama series East Side/West Side. He portrayed a New York City social worker, along with co-stars Cicely Tyson and Elizabeth Wilson. Scott was a major creative influence on the show, resulting in conflicts with James T. Aubrey, the head of CBS. The Emmy Award-winning program had a series of prominent guest stars, including James Earl Jones. The portrayal of challenging urban issues made attracting advertisers difficult, not helped by the limited distribution. Not all CBS network affiliates broadcast the show, and it was cancelled after one season.
Scott's most famous early role was in the 1964 film Dr. Strangelove, or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb, in which he played General "Buck" Turgidson. In later interviews with Stanley Kubrick, Scott was revealed to have initially refused to camp it up on camera. As a compromise, Kubrick had Scott go over the top in rehearsal, assuring Scott that the cameras were off, which was untrue. Kubrick proceeded to use this version in the final cut, which Scott supposedly resented.
In 1965, he was cast, under the direction of John Huston, as Abraham with, among others, co-star Ava Gardner cast as Sarah in the Dino de Laurentiis film: The Bible: In the Beginning which was released by 20th Century Fox in 1966. In 1966, Scott appeared as Jud Barker in the NBC western The Road West, starring Barry Sullivan, Kathryn Hays, Andrew Prine, and Glenn Corbett. Scott won wide public recognition in the film Anatomy of a Murder, in which he played a wily prosecutor opposite James Stewart as the defense attorney. Scott was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor.
Scott portrayed George S. Patton in the 1970 film Patton and researched extensively for the role, studying films of the general and talking to those who knew him. Scott refused the Oscar nomination for Patton, just as he had done for his 1962 nomination for The Hustler, but won the award anyway.
In 1971, Scott gave two more critically acclaimed performances, as a retired judge who believes himself to be Sherlock Holmes in They Might Be Giants and as an alcoholic Doctor in the black comedy The Hospital. Despite his repeated snubbing of the academy, Scott was again nominated for Best Actor for the latter role. Scott excelled on television that year as well, appearing in an adaptation of Arthur Miller's The Price, an installment of the Hallmark Hall of Fame anthology. He was nominated for, and won, an Emmy Award for his role, which he accepted.
He continued to do stage work throughout the rest of his career, receiving Tony Award nominations for his performance as Astrov in a revival of Uncle Vanya (1973), his Willy Loman in a revival of Death of a Salesman (1975), and his performance as Henry Drummond in a revival of Inherit the Wind (1996). In the latter play, he had to miss an unusually large number of performances due to illness, with his role being taken over by National Actors Theatre artistic Director Tony Randall. In 1996, he received an honorary Drama Desk Award for a lifetime devotion to theatre.
Scott also starred in well-received productions of Larry Gelbart's Sly Fox (1976) (based on Ben Jonson's Volpone), which ran 495 performances, and a revival of Noël Coward's Present Laughter (1982). He frequently directed on Broadway, as well, including productions of All God's Chillun Got Wings (1975) and Design for Living (1985), as well as being an actor and Director (Death of a Salesman, Present Laughter and On Borrowed Time).
Scott also starred in the popular 1980 horror film The Changeling, with Melvyn Douglas. He received the Canadian Genie Award for Best Foreign Film Actor for his performance. In 1981, Scott appeared alongside Timothy Hutton and rising stars Sean Penn and Tom Cruise in the coming-of-age film Taps. In 1982, he was cast as Fagin in the CBS made-for-TV adaptation of Charles Dickens' Oliver Twist. In 1984, he portrayed Ebenezer Scrooge in a television adaptation of A Christmas Carol. He was nominated for an Emmy Award for the role.
In a letter to the Motion Picture Academy, he stated that he did not feel himself to be in competition with other actors. However, regarding this second rejection of the Academy Award, Scott famously said elsewhere, "The whole thing is a goddamn meat parade. I don't want any part of it." Sixteen years later, in 1986, Scott reprised his role in a made-for-television sequel, The Last Days of Patton. The movie was based on Patton's final weeks after being mortally injured in a car accident, with flashbacks of Patton's life. At the time the sequel was aired, Scott mentioned in a TV Guide interview that he told the academy to donate his Oscar to the Patton Museum, but since the instructions were never put in writing, it was never delivered (the Best Picture Oscar for Patton was given to the George C. Marshall Foundation Library at the Virginia Military Institute in Lexington, Virginia, the same institution that generations of Pattons attended, by Producer Frank McCarthy a few weeks after the awards ceremony, and is on display there). Scott did not turn down the New York Film Critics Award (of which his then wife Colleen Dewhurst said, "George thinks this is the only film award worth having").
In 1989, Scott starred in the television movie The Ryan White Story, as Charles Vaughan, the Lawyer defending Ryan White from discrimination. In 1990, he voiced Smoke, the villain in the television special Cartoon All-Stars to the Rescue, and he also voiced the villainous Percival McLeach in Disney's The Rescuers Down Under that same year. He was featured in The Exorcist III the same year. In 1997, Scott portrayed Juror #3 in the TV-movie 12 Angry Men, for which he would win another Emmy Award. He hosted the TV series Weapons At War on A&E TV, but was replaced after one season by Gerald McRaney. Weapons At War moved to The History Channel with Scott still credited as host for the first season. Scott was replaced by Robert Conrad after his death in 1999. In 1999, he made his last film, the TV movie Inherit the Wind, portraying Matthew Harrison Brady (ironically opposite the role he had played on stage) with Jack Lemmon as Henry Drummond, with whom he had also worked in 12 Angry Men.
Scott suffered a series of heart attacks in the 1980s. He died on September 22, 1999, aged 71, of a ruptured abdominal aortic aneurysm. He was interred in the Westwood Village Memorial Park Cemetery in Westwood, California in an unmarked grave located to the right of that of Walter Matthau.
Scott had a reputation for being moody and mercurial while on the set. "There is no question you get pumped up by the recognition," he once said, "Then a self-loathing sets in when you realize you're enjoying it." A famous anecdote relates that one of his stage costars, Maureen Stapleton, told the Director of Neil Simon's Plaza Suite, "I don't know what to do — I'm scared of him." The Director, Mike Nichols, replied, "My dear, everyone is scared of George C. Scott."