Shemar Franklin Moore was born in Oakland, California, the son of Marilyn Wilson, a business consultant, and Sherrod Moore. Moore's father is African American and his mother, who was born in Roxbury, Massachusetts, is of Irish and French-Canadian descent. His mother, who has a degree in mathematics, worked as a teacher in Bahrain and Denmark. Moore moved with her to Denmark as an infant, and then to Bahrain when he was four where he attended a British private school until the age of seven. Moore cites civil unrest, interracial relationships being taboo, and racism in the US in the 1970s as part of the reason his mother moved abroad with him. Returning to California in 1977, the family moved to Chico, California, where his mother worked at a clinic, before later moving to Palo Alto. Shemar Moore graduated from Gunn High School in Palo Alto. He attended Santa Clara University, majoring in communications, and modeled to pay his bills. His mother now lives in Pacifica, California, where he visits from time to time.
Moore played the role of Malcolm Winters on The Young and the Restless for eight years. In November 2004, he returned to The Young and the Restless after originally planning to leave the show, but after a few months he dropped back to recurring status and left in September 2005. In 2007, he said, "My time is done on Y&R. I did eight solid years as Malcolm." When Susan Lucci won her long-awaited Emmy for outstanding lead actress in a drama series at the 1999 Daytime Emmy Awards, it was Moore who announced it by exclaiming, "The streak is over...Susan Lucci!"