After playing the trumpet in jazz bands in the 1940s, he became a studio arranger for RCA Victor and in 1955 started ghost writing for film and theatre. Throughout his career, he has composed music for artists such as Paul Anka, Mina, Milva, Zucchero and Andrea Bocelli. From 1960 to 1975, Morricone gained international fame for composing music for westerns. His score to 1966's The Good, the Bad and the Ugly is considered one of the most influential soundtracks in history and was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame. With an estimated 10 million copies sold, Once Upon a Time in the West is one of the best-selling scores worldwide. He also scored seven westerns for Sergio Corbucci, Duccio Tessari's Ringo duology and Sergio Sollima's The Big Gundown and Face to Face. Morricone worked extensively for other film genres with directors such as Bernardo Bertolucci, Mauro Bolognini, Giuliano Montaldo, Roland Joffé, Roman Polanski and Henri Verneuil. His acclaimed soundtrack for The Mission (1986) was certified gold in the United States. The album Yo-Yo Ma Plays Ennio Morricone stayed 105 weeks on the Billboard Top Classical Albums.
Morricone's best-known compositions include "The Ecstasy of Gold", "Se Telefonando", "Man with a Harmonica", "Here's to You", the UK No. 2 single "Chi Mai", "Gabriel's Oboe" and "E Più Ti Penso". He functioned during the period 1966–1980 as a main member of Il Gruppo, one of the first experimental composers collectives. In 1969, he co-founded Forum Music Village, a prestigious recording studio. From the 1970s, Morricone excelled in Hollywood, composing for prolific American directors such as Don Siegel, Mike Nichols, Brian De Palma, Barry Levinson, Oliver Stone, Warren Beatty and Quentin Tarantino. In 1977, he composed the official theme for the 1978 FIFA World Cup. He continued to compose music for European productions, such as Marco Polo, La piovra, Nostromo, Fateless, Karol and En mai, fais ce qu'il te plait. Morricone's music has been reused in television series, including The Simpsons and The Sopranos, and in many films, including Inglourious Basterds and Django Unchained.
As of 2013, Ennio Morricone has sold over 70 million records worldwide. In 1971, he received a "Targa d'Oro" for the worldwide sales of 22 million. In 2007, he received the Academy Honorary Award "for his magnificent and multifaceted contributions to the art of film music." He has been nominated for a further six Oscars. In 2016, Morricone received his first Academy Award for his score to Quentin Tarantino's film The Hateful Eight (2015), at the time becoming the oldest person ever to win a competitive Oscar. His other achievements include three Grammy Awards, three Golden Globes, six BAFTAs, ten David di Donatello, eleven Nastro d'Argento, two European Film Awards, the Golden Lion Honorary Award and the Polar Music Prize in 2010.
Morricone was born in Rome, the son of Libera Ridolfi and Mario Morricone, a musician. His family came from Arpino, near Frosinone. Morricone, who had four siblings, Adriana, Aldo, Maria and Franca, lived in Trastevere, in the centre of Rome, with his parents. Mario was a trumpet player who worked professionally in different light-music orchestras, while Libera set up a small textile business.
His first teacher was his father Mario Morricone, who taught him how to read music and also to play several instruments. Compelled to take up the trumpet, he entered the National Academy of St Cecilia, to take trumpet lessons under the guidance of Umberto Semproni.