Davis was born in Tallahassee, Florida to Eugene Davis, a dentist whose career declined due to alcoholism, and his wife, the former Anne Creel. His brother, Gene Davis, is also an actor. According to an article in The New York Times published in 1987, the actor's mother sexually abused him and as an adult, he was an alcoholic and an intravenous drug user before becoming sober in 1981.
Davis was known as "Bobby" during his youth, but took Brad as his stage name in 1973.
At seventeen, after winning a music talent contest, Davis worked at Theatre Atlanta. He later moved to New York City and attended the American Academy of Dramatic Arts, as well as studied acting at the American Place Theater. After a role on the soap opera How to Survive a Marriage, he performed in off-Broadway plays. In 1976 he was cast as Sally Field's love interest in the television film "Sybil". He played the lead role in Larry Kramer's play about AIDS, The Normal Heart (1985). His most successful film role was as the main character in Midnight Express (1978), for which he won a Golden Globe award.
Although it has been publicized that Davis died of AIDS in 1991 in Los Angeles, he technically died of assisted suicide by an overdose of drugs, according to the book After Midnight: The Life and Death of Brad Davis, written by his widow. Davis was referred to as "the first heterosexual actor to die of AIDS"; he was, however, reportedly bisexual.  Diagnosed with AIDS in 1985, he kept his condition secret until shortly before his death. His widow continues to campaign against AIDS.
- The Player (1992)
- The Habitation of Dragons (1992)
- Hangfire (1991)
- Child of Darkness Child of Light (1991)
- Rosalie Goes Shopping (1990)
- The Plot to Kill Hitler (1990)
- Unspeakable Acts (1990)
- The Caine Mutiny Court-Martial (1988)
- Cold Steel (1987)
- Heart (1987)
- When the Time Comes (1987)
- Blood Ties (1986)
- Vengeance (1986)
- Robert Kennedy and His Times (1984)
- Chiefs (1983)
- Querelle (1983)
- Chariots of Fire (1981)
- The Greatest Man in the World (1980)
- A Rumor of War (1980)
- A Small Circle of Friends (1980)
- Midnight Express (1978)
- What Really Happened to the Class of '65 (1978)
- The Campus Corpse (1977)
- Roots (1977)
- Sybil (1976)
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