Ritchie was born in Waukesha, Wisconsin, the son of Patricia (née Graney) and Benbow Ferguson Ritchie. His family later moved to Berkeley, California, where his father was a professor of experimental psychology at the University of California at Berkeley and his mother was the art and music librarian for the city.
He attended Berkeley High School before becoming interested in film, and was accepted at Harvard University following high school. He told Redford's biographer, author Michael Feeney Callan, that academic interest in film culture was the basis and drive for his career.
In 1994, Ritchie purchased the hacienda-style house at 12305 Fifth Helena Drive, in the Brentwood district of Los Angeles, where Marilyn Monroe died in 1962. He bought the property for $995,000 and it became his Los Angeles family base. Also in 1994, Ritchie moved to Manhattan with his wife, Jimmie B. Ritchie, and daughters, Lillian (b. 1986) and Miriam (b. 1988). His additional children include a son, Steven (b. 1973); daughters Lauren (b. 1966) and Jessica (b. 1973), and two stepchildren, Nelly Bly and Billy Bly. His sister, Elsie Ritchie, acted in two of his films: The Candidate and Smile.
While at Harvard, Ritchie directed the original production of the Arthur Kopit play, Oh Dad, Poor Dad, Mama's Hung You in the Closet and I'm Feelin' So Sad in Cambridge, Massachusetts. This led Robert Saudek to offer him a job, and Ritchie worked on several TV series prior to his film debut in 1969 with Downhill Racer.
As a director, Ritchie's output was highly varied. Although originally known for his sports films and satires in the 1970s, such as The Candidate and The Bad News Bears, he became more known for his broad comedies in the 1980s, such as Fletch.
Chris Willman of Entertainment Weekly wrote, "It’s difficult to think of any director, ever, who had a more consistently uneven career." According to Jean-Pierre Coursodon, his films were recognized as "unpretentious, closely observed, finely textured works...there comes a point when, looking back, one sees that their consistency itself – consistent excellence – is telling us something: something about the way that cinema itself is able to move out and look around." Ritchie died from complications related to prostate cancer.
Seattle-King County and Washington State Bar Associations. Washington State Trial Lawyers Association.