Adamov (originally Adamian) was born in Kislovodsk in Russia to a wealthy Armenian family, which lost its wealth in 1917. In common with many other wealthy Russians of the time, Adamov was brought up with French as his first language, and in 1924 he moved to Paris.
In Paris Adamov met surrealists and edited the surrealist journal Discontinuité. He began to write plays after World War II, with La Parodie (1947) being his first. His work, influenced by Bertolt Brecht, is often dream-like and later works in particular have a political element. The title character of one of his best known works, Le Professeur Taranne (1953), is accused of various things (public nudity, littering, plagiarism), all of which he strenuously denies, only to have his denials turned against him into more evidence of misdemeanours. This particular play was directly influenced by a dream Adamov had. Lesser known to the public is his prose work with short stories like Fin Août (in Je... Ils..., 1969). Their themes revolve around topics like masochism, which the author regarded as "immunisation against death". Adamov translated a number of works by German authors (Rilke, Büchner) and Russian classics (Gogol, Chekhov) into French. During his later years, he began to drink and use drugs.
Adamov's death in 1970 in Paris may have been the result of an accidental suicide by taking an overdose of barbiturates.