Porter was born in Peru, Indiana. He started studying music at a very young age, primarily playing the piano. He attended Worcester Academy, Yale University, and afterward went to Paris to study music. During World War I Porter enlisted in the French Foreign Legion and served in North Africa. His musicals and individual songs soon gained him popularity; many were written specifically with Fred Astaire in mind. A riding accident in 1937 crushed his legs and left him in chronic pain and largely crippled, but he continued to compose.
In 1918, in Paris, he met Linda Lee Thomas (1883-1954), a rich Louisville, Kentucky-born divorcée several years his senior; they were married in 1919. She was once dubbed the most beautiful woman in the world. Porter was gay, a situation that was apparently no secret to his wife, though they did separate in the early 1930s when Porter's sexuality became more and more open during their time living in Hollywood. He had an affair in 1925 with Ballets Russes star Boris Kochno and reportedly had a long relationship with his constant companion, Howard Sturges, a Boston socialite, as well as architect Ed Tauch (for whom Porter wrote "Easy to Love"), choreographer Nelson Barclift (who inspired "Night and Day"), director John Wilson (who later married international society beauty Princess Nathalie Paley), and longtime friend Ray Kelly, whose children still receive half of the childless Porter's copyrights. A review of a recent Porter biography recounts that in his later years, the composer kept "breaking appliances so he could lure cute repairmen into his lair."
Cole Porter is interred in the Mount Hope Cemetery, Peru, Indiana.
His life was made into a film with Cary Grant. It is also chronicled in De-Lovely, a movie starring Kevin Kline as Porter and Ashley Judd as Linda.