His parents' divorce and father's suicide led to difficulty in school; he dropped out during his senior year.
Hitchhiked to Los Angeles in 1953.
Began his Hollywood career working as an office clerk at Universal Studios in 1957. While there, learned film editing with the goal of becoming a director.
After an Oscar win for editing In the Heat of the Night, he partnered with graphic artist Pablo Ferro and helped design the multiple-screen sequencing in The Thomas Crown Affair, to much acclaim.
Mentor Norman Jewison (In the Heat of the Night) removed himself as director of 1970's The Landlord and recommended Ashby; it was his directorial debut.
The controversial Vietnam War-themed Coming Home (1978) did not please the distributors at United Artists, who deemed it anti-American and opened it in February, generally not a good time for Oscar consideration. Despite the association with "Hanoi Jane" Fonda and the reclusive hippie director, the film ultimately earned eight Academy Award nominations, including Best Director, Best Picture and Best Actress for Fonda (who won).
Died of liver and colon cancer in 1988.
1977, Golden Globe — Best Director - Motion Picture: Nominee
1979, Golden Globe — Best Director - Motion Picture: Nominee
1980, Golden Globe — Best Director - Motion Picture: Nominee
1978, Oscar — Best Achievement in Directing: Nominee
1966, Oscar — Best Achievement in Film Editing: Nominee
1967, Oscar — Best Achievement in Film Editing: Winner
1978, Directors Guild of America Awards — Outstanding Directorial Achievement in Feature Film: Nominee