Wong was born in Taishan, Guangdong Province, China in 1910. When he was 9 years old, Wong and his father immigrated to the United States, leaving behind Wong's mother and sister, whom they never saw again. Because of the Chinese Exclusion Act, Wong and his father were detained on Angel Island. After his release from Angel Island, he and his father moved to Sacramento and later settled down in Los Angeles.
Displaying artistic talent early on, Wong dropped out of junior high to study art at the Otis Art Institute. From then on, Wong worked as a Hallmark card designer, film production illustrator, and sketch artist for Disney. It was his special evocative drawings combining eastern and western styles that earned him the position of lead artist for the production of the Bambi film.
After Disney, Wong worked for Warner Brothers as a production illustrator and sketch artist. He painted and sketched concept art for hundreds of live-action films, including Rebel Without a Cause, Calamity Jane, Harper, The Wild Bunch, Sands of Iwo Jima, Auntie Mame, April in Paris, and PT 109. He stayed at Warner Bros. for the next 26 years until his retirement in 1968.
Wong continued to create art after retirement including imaginative kites that have been featured in art exhibitions. In 2004, his works were showcased in the exhibition Tyrus Wong: A Retrospective at the Chinese American Museum in Los Angeles. In 2007, Wong was one of three illustrators featured in The Art of the Motion Picture Illustrator: William B. Major, Harold Michelson and Tyrus Wong, an exhibit in the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Science's Grand Lobby Gallery in Beverly Hills. From August 2013 to February 2014, Wong's work was exhibited at The Walt Disney Family Museum in San Francisco in a career retrospective.
Tyrus Wong lived to be 106 years old. He passed away on December 30, 2016.