On December 17, 1962, Jewell was born Richard White in Danville, Virginia.

In 1966, Richard's birth-parents divorced when he was four.

When his mother remarried to John Jewell, an insurance executive, his stepfather adopted him.

Centennial Olympic Park was designed as the "town square" of the Olympics, and thousands of spectators had gathered for a late concert and merrymaking. Sometime after midnight, July 27, 1996, Eric Robert Rudolph, a terrorist who would later bomb a lesbian nightclub and two abortion clinics, planted a green backpack containing a fragmentation-laden pipe bomb underneath a bench. Jewell was working as a security guard for the event.

On July 27, 1996, He discovered the bag and alerted Georgia Bureau of Investigation officers. This discovery was nine minutes before Rudolph called 9-1-1 to deliver a warning.

On July 27, 1996, Jewell and other security guards began clearing the immediate area so that a bomb squad could investigate the suspicious package.

On July 27, 1996, The bomb exploded 13 minutes later, killing Alice Hawthorne and injuring over one hundred others. A cameraman also died of a heart attack while running to cover the incident.

On October 26, 1996, the investigating US Attorney, Kent Alexander, in an extremely unusual act, sent Jewell a letter formally clearing him, stating "based on the evidence developed to date ... Richard Jewell is not considered a target of the federal criminal investigation into the bombing on July 27, 1996, at Centennial Olympic Park in Atlanta".

Three days later, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution revealed that the FBI was treating him as a possible suspect, based largely on a "lone bomber" criminal profile.

Early news reports lauded Jewell as a hero for helping to evacuate the area after he spotted the suspicious package.

For the next several weeks, the news media focused aggressively on him as the presumed culprit, labeling him with the ambiguous term "person of interest", sifting through his life to match a leaked "lone bomber" profile that the FBI had used.

The media, to varying degrees, portrayed Jewell as a failed law enforcement officer who may have planted the bomb so he could "find" it and be a hero.

A Justice Department investigation of the FBI's conduct found the FBI had tried to manipulate Jewell into waiving his constitutional rights by telling him he was taking part in a training film about bomb detection, although the report concluded "no intentional violation of Mr. Jewell's civil rights and no criminal misconduct" had taken place.

Jewell was never officially charged, but the FBI thoroughly and publicly searched his home twice, questioned his associates, investigated his background, and maintained 24-hour surveillance of him.

The pressure began to ease only after Jewell's attorneys hired an ex-FBI agent to administer a polygraph, which Jewell passed.

After his exoneration, Jewell filed lawsuits against the media outlets which he said had libeled him, primarily NBC News and The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, and insisted on a formal apology from them.

In July 1997, U.S. Attorney General Janet Reno, prompted by a reporter's question at her weekly news conference, expressed regret over the FBI's leak to the news media that led to the widespread presumption of his guilt, and apologized outright, saying, "I'm very sorry it happened. I think we owe him an apology. I regret the leak.".

On July 23, 1997, Jewell sued the New York Post for $15 million in damages, contending that the paper portrayed him in articles, photographs and an editorial cartoon as an "aberrant" person with a "bizarre employment history" who was probably guilty of the bombing.

Jewell made public appearances. He appeared in Michael Moore's 1997 film, The Big One.

Jewell had a cameo in the September 27, 1997 episode of Saturday Night Live, in which he jokingly fended off suggestions that he was responsible for the deaths of Mother Teresa and Princess Diana.

In 2001, Jewell was honored as the Grand Marshal of the Carmel, Indiana's Independence Day Parade. Jewell was chosen in keeping with the parade's theme of "Unsung Heroes".

On April 13, 2005, Jewell was exonerated completely when Eric Rudolph, as part of a plea deal, pled guilty to carrying out the bombing attack at the Centennial Olympic Park, as well as three other attacks across southern parts of the US.

In 2006, Jewell said the lawsuits were not about money, and that the vast majority of the settlements went to lawyers or taxes. He said the lawsuits were about clearing his name.

In 2006, Georgia Governor Sonny Perdue honored Jewell for his rescue efforts during the attack.

On each anniversary of the bombing until his illness and eventual death, he would privately place a rose at the Centennial Olympic Park scene where spectator Alice Hawthorne died.

Jewell worked in various law enforcement jobs, including as a police officer in Pendergrass, Georgia. He worked as a deputy sheriff in Meriwether County, Georgia until his death. He also gave speeches at colleges.

Jewell died on August 29, 2007, at the age of 44. He was suffering from serious medical problems that were related to diabetes.

Richard Jewell, a biographical drama film, was released in the United States on December 13, 2019. The film was directed and produced by Clint Eastwood. It was written by Billy Ray, based on the 1997 article "American Nightmare," and the book The Suspect: An Olympic Bombing, the FBI, the Media, and Richard Jewell, the Man Caught in the Middle (2019) by Kent Alexander and Kevin Salwen. Jewell is played by actor Paul Walter Hauser.

Richard Jewell was married to Dana Jewell.

Jewell filed suit against his former employer Piedmont College, Piedmont College President Raymond Cleere and college spokesman Scott Rawles. Jewell's attorneys contended that Cleere called the FBI and spoke to the Atlanta newspapers, providing them with false information on Jewell and his employment there as a security guard. Jewell's lawsuit accused Cleere of describing Jewell as a "badge-wearing zealot" who "would write epic police reports for minor infractions".

Jewell sued NBC News for this statement, made by Tom Brokaw: "The speculation is that the FBI is close to making the case. They probably have enough to arrest him right now, probably enough to prosecute him, but you always want to have enough to convict him as well. There are still some holes in this case". Even though NBC stood by its story, the network agreed to pay Jewell $500,000.

Jewell also sued the Atlanta Journal-Constitution newspaper. According to Jewell, the paper's headline, "FBI suspects 'hero' guard may have planted bomb", "pretty much started the whirlwind". In one article, the Atlanta Journal compared Richard Jewell's case to that of serial killer Wayne Williams.

Although CNN settled with Jewell for an undisclosed monetary amount, CNN maintained that its coverage had been "fair and accurate".