The son of a Conservative MP, he was educated at Eton College and Trinity College, Oxford, and was called to the bar in 1954. After brief careers as a barrister and a TV interviewer, he entered parliament in 1959 as Liberal MP for North Devon. In 1967, he became party leader after the resignation of Jo Grimond. Thorpe's style, in contrast to Grimond's intellectualism, was youthful and dynamic, and was sometimes ridiculed as too gimmicky.
A colourful character, Thorpe was renowned for his assortment of Edwardian suits, silk waistcoats and trilby hats, as well as being a noted raconteur and impressionist. Critics argued that he was little more than a political lightweight, but Thorpe was undoubtedly a popular figure. When he became Liberal leader, his party commanded 8.5% of the vote. By February 1974, it commanded 19% of the vote, with some opinion polls even placing it as high as 30%.
The 1970 general election was a disaster for Thorpe's Liberals, as their number of MPs halved from 12 to 6, which lead to opponents' jibes that the entire parliamentary party could fit in one taxi -- a joke which was expanded to two taxis after the election of the extremely corpulent Cyril Smith as MP for Rochdale. But between 1972 and 1974, Thorpe led the Liberals to an impressive string of byelection victories, at Rochdale, Sutton and Cheam, Ripon, the Isle of Ely, and Berwick. In the two general elections of 1974, the Liberals gained 14 and 13 MPs respectively.
Following the death of his first wife Caroline in a car crash, Thorpe married Marion, a former concert pianist and ex-wife of the Earl of Harewood.
However, in 1976, Thorpe was forced to resign the party leadership after being accused of a homosexual relationship with Norman Scott, who claimed that Thorpe had tried to murder him after the end of their affair. Thorpe was subsequently one of four defendants in a court case, but was acquitted of conspiring to murder Scott, despite the jury originally being tied. His political career could not withstand the scandal, and he lost his parliamentary seat at the general election of 1979, which came just a week before his trial. Not long after the end of the trial, Jeremy Thorpe was diagnosed with Parkinson's Disease and retired from public life. For the past twenty years, it has been at an extremely advanced stage.