Genesis quickly become one of the most talked-about bands in the UK club circuit, largely due to Gabriel's flamboyant stage presence, which involved numerous bizarre costume changes and comical, dreamlike stories told as the introduction to each song. During "The Knife", a popular live song from the Trespass album, Gabriel would perform a stunt that, two decades later, became extremely common: stage diving. On one occasion he broke a leg leaping into the crowd, but managed to climb back up onto the stage and finish the performance.
Gabriel has had a long and successful career after leaving the band in 1975, with his position as lead singer then filled by drummer Phil Collins.
His first solo success came with the single "Solsbury Hill", an autobiographical piece expressing his thoughts on leaving Genesis. Although early on he achieved critical success and some commercial success (e.g. "Games Without Frontiers" from his third album and "Shock the Monkey" from his fourth), Gabriel achieved his greatest popularity with songs from the 1986 So album.
Gabriel's song "Sledgehammer" was accompanied by a visually stunning music video, which was a collaboration with director Stephen Johnson, Aardman Animation, and the Brothers Quay. The video won numerous awards at the 1987 MTV Music Video Awards, and set a new standard for art in the music video industry.
Gabriel has been interested in world music for many years, with the first musical evidence appearing on his third album. This influence has increased over time, and he is the driving force behind the WOMAD (World of Music, Arts and Dance) movement. He created the Real World Studios to facilitate the creation of such music by various artists, and he has worked to educate Western culture about the work of such musicians as Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan and Youssou N'dour. He has also recently been interested in multimedia projects, creating the Xplora and Eve CD-ROMs. He has a long-standing interest in human rights, and launched the Witness program to supply video cameras to human rights activists to expose abuses.
Gabriel's song "We Do What We're Told (Milgram's 37)" from So refers to Milgram's experiment, and in particular the 37 out of 40 subjects who showed complete obedience in one particular experiment.
Following the September 11, 2001 attacks, a list of 150 songs circulated on the Internet, purported to be from radio conglomerate Clear Channel Communications to its subsidiaries, with the recommendation that these songs be pulled from airplay (it was later revealed that the list was originally the work of a few specific station program directors, was not an official Clear Channel missive, and changed over time as it was redistributed). "When You're Falling", a collaboration between Gabriel and Afro Celt Sound System, was on the list.
It has been reported that he has bipolar disorder.