Octavian Paler was born in Lisa, Braşov County. He was educated at Spiru Haret High School in Bucharest. In the summer of 1944, just one week before graduating the 7th grade, he was forced to leave the school because of an argument with his uncle and Spiru Haret's school head master – George Șerban. Octavian Paler moved on to Radu Negru High School in Făgăraş, where he studied literature for his final examination. He graduated in 1945 with magna cum laude and outstanding results in philosophy, Latin and Greek. He sat the final examination in Sibiu in the same year. Octavian Paler went on to study Philosophy and Law at the University of Bucharest. He died of a heart attack on May 7, 2007 at the age of 80. He was buried with military honours in the Sfânta Vineri cemetery.
Octavian Paler was a substitute member in the Central Committee of the Romanian Communist Party from 1974 to 1979, and a member of the Great National Assembly for the Vaslui constituency, from 1980 to 1985. However, he was persecuted by the Romanian secret service agency, the Securitate, because of his pro-western views and criticism of Romanian Communist Party, including Nicolae Ceauşescu. He was not allowed to leave his home and suffered restrictions in his artistic work. After the fall of Nicolae Ceauşescu in 1989, Octavian Paler continued his anti-communist activity as a founding member of the Group for Social Dialogue (Grupul de Dialog Social), together with Ana Blandiana and Gabriel Liiceanu amongst others. During his last years he was an intense critic of Romanian politicians and politics.The majority of his career has developed during the Communist Regime, as the vice-president of the Romanian Radio and TV Broadcasting committee from 1965 to 1970, and the president of the Romanian Journalists Council in 1976. He worked as a Senior Editor at the influential newspaper România Liberă from 1970 to 1983. After 1989, Octavian Paler received public appreciation for his journalistic work and political activism and was appointed as the chief editor of România Liberă. He has also published with Cotidianul and Ziua, and has made appearances on public TV discussing politics and morality.
His most popular book is the novel Viața pe un peron (Life on a Station Platform, 1981).