At the age of 9, Ganesan was so interested in stage plays that he ran away from home to pursue a career in theatre. His mother helped him get into a famous drama troupe.
Ganesan's first film was Paraasakthi in the year 1952 opposite noted actress Pandari Bai. The script for the movie was written by Karunanidhi. He has acted in about 300 movies, including nine Telugu movies,one Kannada movie, two Malayalam movies and two Hindi movies.
The name 'Sivaji' was given to him by great rationalist Thanthai Periyar E.V.R. Ramasamy after his excellent stage performance as Emperor Shivaji. He made his reputation as an actor in C.N. Annadurai's Sivaji Kanda Indhu Rajyam, a historical on the Maratha Emperor Shivaji. He was asked to play the role at the last moment when the lead actor backed out. It is said he memorized the entire 95 pages of dialogues in a day! Such was his impact that the play also gave him his screen name.. He is also known as Nadigar Thilagam, meaning considered to be one the most influential and greatest actors of all time, and Nadippu Chakravarthy (translated as "the King of Kings of acting). He was a major actor of his period in South Indian cinema. He has been awarded the title of Chevalier, the Order of Arts and Literature by the Ministry of Culture, Government of France. This is one of the main decorations of the French Republic which is conferred to honour the most original and talented personalities, for their remarkable contributions in the field of Arts and Literature in France and all over the world.On 22nd April 1995, at a glittering ceremony held at the MCA stadium, Madras,Dr.Sivaji Ganesan was presented the Chevalier Title and Medallion by the French Ambassador to India Mr.Philip Petit. Ms.Jayalalitha, the then Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu, graced the occasion as the Chief Guest of the function.The entire Tamil film industry and representatives of all other Regional and National film industries were present at this function
At the function Dr.Sivaji Ganesan presented a cheque for Rs.100,000/- to the Tamilnadu Chief Minister's Relief Fund, and another Rupees One Hundred Thousands to the Film Employees Federation of South India.The balance of money after all expenses (which was collected from the film industry) was used to form the Chevalier Sivaji Ganesan Educational Trust. The money accruing from these Trust funds are being given towards education of children of poor film artistes.