He was born in Genoa on 30 December 1932. He is the son of Ettore (1905 - 1992), an engineer of Sicilian origin (native of Palermo), and a Venetian mother, Maria (1905 - 1998), a German teacher. He has a twin brother, Piero, who teaches Construction Science at the Scuola Normale Superiore di Pisa.
He attended Liceo Classico “Andrea D’Oria” and was in the same class as Paolo Fresco, later starting to study Law before eventually abandoning it. In ‘54, at the Genoa Lido, he met Maura Albites, who he would later go on to marry and have two children with: Elisabetta and Pierfrancesco. He also has a grandson, Andreas, son of Elisabetta.
In the early 1970s, he made his debut in the cinema, in various comedies as well as a major role, the German soldier Torz in the famous “Brancaleone alle cruciate” by Mario Monicelli, 1970.
In 1972, he worked alongside Mike Bongiorno presenting the Festival of Sanremo.
In 1975, Villaggio and Salce would go on to transport the character of Fantozzi from page to screen in the film of the same name, in which the same Genoese actor would lend his face to his character, despite the fact that the candidates included Ugo Tognazzi and Renato Pozzetto, who did not, however, accept the role. Fantozzi would prove to be a resounding success, thanks to an excellent cast made up of Gigi Reder as Filini, Anna Mazzamauro as Silvani, Giuseppe Anatrelli as Calboni, Liù Bosisio in the first Fantozzi - later replaced by Milena Vukotic in all the others - as wife Pina, and Plinio Fernando as the ugly daughter Mariangela. The films would be written together with the great screenwriters Leo Benvenuti and Piero de Bernardi.
Meanwhile, in 1976 “Le lettere di Fantozzi” - the accountant’s third book - was published. In 1979, “Fantozzi contro tutti” was published, a book that was even more politically incorrect than the previous ones, and which often echoes the locations and exploits of the film Il... Belpaese.
In 1980, Fantozzi’s film career was relaunched with “Fantozzi contro tutti”, directed by Neri Parenti who, starting with the film “Fracchia la belva umana”, would go on to become the lead director for Villaggio; he would direct the Fantozzi series up to the penultimate instalment, Fantozzi - Il ritorno, the “Comiche” trilogy (in which Villaggio was partnered with Renato Pozzetto) and other films not linked to a series (including “Sogni mostruosamente proibiti”, “Pappa e ciccia” and “Ho vinto la lotteria di capodanno”). Meanwhile, Villaggio took part in numerous comedy films, often playing his particular brand of submissive, cowardly character, such as the Marquis of Forlimpopoli in Paolo Cavara’s “La Locandiera”, but occasionally dusting off his earlier cynicism, such as in “Il volpone” by Maurizio Ponzi.
1990 marked an important turning point for the Genoese comedian’s career: he took part in the film “La voce della luna” by Federico Fellini, for which he won the David di Donatello award. For this performance in art-house cinema, he was reconsidered by the critics and those who only identified him as Fantozzi, whose saga would go on until 1999 with the film “Fantozzi 2000 - la clonazione”.
Amongst the many film prizes awarded to Paolo Villaggio, the most notable are those dedicated to his career: the Leone d’Oro in 1992, the Pardo d’Onore in 2000 and the David di Donatello in 2009.
After having performed the autobiographical monologue “Delirio di un povero vecchio”, in 2002 Villaggio published his autobiography entitled “Vita, morte e miracoli di un pezzo di merda”.
Paolo Villaggio died on 3 July 2017 in Rome.