Wong and his father immigrated to the United States from China in 1919. When he attended Benjamin Franklin Junior High in Pasadena, his teachers noticed Wong's artistic ability and arranged for a summer scholarship at the Otis Art Institute. Wong was hooked and decided to leave junior high for a full time studentship at Otis. Since his family was poor, he worked as a janitor at this school and walked for miles just to attend classes. It paid off as Wong had a lucrative career as an artist in Hollywood.
He was married to Ruth Ng Kim Wong (黃伍梅珍). He considers his three daughters (Kim, Tai-ling, and Kay) as his "greatest achievements."
He has done everything from working as a greeting card designer to Warner Bros. film production illustrator (1942-1968), from drawing set designs and storyboard for several movies to being a Disney inspirational sketch artist (1938-1941). It was his lush pastels that served as inspiration for Bambi (1942) where he was the lead artist of the project.
Tyrus Wong left Disney studios shortly after finishing Bambi, due to repercussions from the Disney animators' strike. Later, he has designed Christmas cards, where some have sold over 1 million copies.
Some of his well known paintings include Self Portrait (late 1920s), Fire (1939), Reclining Nude (1940s), East (1984) and West (1984). He told an interviewer that he's a "lucky artist."
"Tyrus Wong: A Retrospective" was an exhibit at the Chinese American Museum (December 18, 2004 – October 17, 2004) in Los Angeles showcasing his work. According to the museum, "This exhibit showcased the works of Tyrus Wong, who at the age of 93, is one of the earliest and most influential Chinese American artists in the United States. In his long, pioneering career as a local artist, Wong is a seasoned painter, muralist, ceramicist, lithographer, designer, and kite maker. The exhibit also featured Wong’s imaginative kites, which he has been building and flying for the past 30 years. Drawn from public and private collections, several of the pieces chosen for this exhibition have not been shown publicly since the 1930s.
After retiring in 1968, Wong has been making kites for many years, and he would fly his colorful kites, such as a "panda", a "goldfish" or a "centipede", by the Santa Monica pier on a Saturday to the delights of many.
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 Sciences's Grand Lobby Gallery in Beverly Hills.