In his early years he posed for painters who worked out of studios in Manhattan's Union Square.
Once asked why he chose acting as a profession, he stated that the rise of anti-Semitism in Europe compelled him to prove himself worthy of his "gift of life."
He was the obscure cab driver in the famous "I coulda been a contender..." scene with Marlon Brando and Rod Steiger in the classic movie On the Waterfront (1954).
When the Actors Studio was formed in 1947 Persoff was in the first "beginner's" class directed by Elia Kazan. Among his fellow students were Julie Harris, Steven Hill, Cloris Leachman, James Whitmore, Martin Balsam, Kim Hunter and Jocelyn Brando (Marlon Brando's sister.).
He made guest appearances on both of the longest running prime time dramas in US television history: Gunsmoke (1955) and Law & Order (1990).
Still active, he teaches acting in Cambria, California. [March 2005]
Continues to live in Cambria, California [November 2012]
Living in California and creating artwork [April 2003]
His four children with his wife Thia Persov (b. October 1, 1930) are: Jeffrey Jhonatan Persoff (b. May 18, 1955), New York City. Dan Deckel Persoff (b. October 23, 1956), New York City. Perry Erez Persoff (b. May 4, 1960), Los Angeles. Dahlia Persoff (b. October 30, 1962), Los Angeles.
In his early career he worked under the name "Nick Perry" because he was afraid his Jewish name would alienate some prejudiced people.
He was awarded the 1975 Los Angeles Drama Critics Circle Award for Distinguished Performance in a Supporting Role for "The Dybbuk" at the Mark Taper Forum Theatre in Los Angeles, California.
Appeared in two films revolving around the life of Christ: The Greatest Story Ever Told (1965) and The Last Temptation of Christ (1988).