Richard Conte was born Nicholas Peter Conte on March 24, 1910, in New Jersey, the son of an Italian-American barber.
Conte held a variety of jobs before becoming a professional actor, including truck driver, Wall Street clerk and singing waiter at a Connecticut resort. In 1935, he was discovered by actors Elia Kazan and John Garfield during his job at the Connecticut resort, which led to Conte finding stage work. He eventually earned a scholarship to study at the Neighborhood Playhouse in New York, where he became a standout actor.
Conte appeared in many films noir after World War II. Conte appeared in such Fox crime dramas as Cry of the City and Call Northside 777 (both from 1948), and Thieves' Highway. Conte appeared in Otto Preminger's classic film noir Whirlpool, co-starring Gene Tierney (1949).
In the early-1950s, Conte, now not working for Fox, began appearing in films for various studios. Critics and fans consider his best films from that era include the film noir B-movies The Sleeping City (1950), The Raging Tide (1951), Highway Dragnet (1954) and The Blue Gardenia (1953). In 1959, Conte starred in The Twilight Zone episode Perchance to Dream.
Once film noir became less popular in the 1960s Conte’s career was at a standstill. In 1964, he and Anne Francis guest starred in the episode "Hideout" of CBS's short-lived drama The Reporter, starring Harry Guardino in the title role as New York City journalist Danny Taylor, with Gary Merrill as city editor Lou Sheldon. In 1966, Conte landed a supporting role in the short-lived CBS sitcom The Jean Arthur Show.
Conte appeared as Lieutenant Dave Santini in two Frank Sinatra crime films, Tony Rome (1967) and Lady in Cement (1968) (He had also appeared with Sinatra in the 1960 film Oceans Eleven).
Conte eventually moved to Europe and acted in a number of films. Later in life, Conte acted one of his most memorable performances in The Godfather (1972) as Don Barzini (he was at one time also considered for the title role, a role that Marlon Brando eventually filled.)
He continued to work in European films until his death. His most notable of over sixty films include The Godfather (1972), Oceans Eleven (1960), The Greatest Story Ever Told (1965), and Call Northside 777 (1948).
Conte was married to the actress Ruth Storey, with whom he fathered a son, film editor Mark Conte. He married his second wife, Shirlee Garner, in 1973; they remained married until Conte's death.
He died of a heart attack on April 15, 1975, aged 65. He is buried in the Westwood Memorial Park in Los Angeles, California.