An only child of African American and Croatian descent, Zorich was raised by his mother on the South Side of Chicago, where he attended Chicago Vocational High School.
Zorich received a scholarship to play college football at the University of Notre Dame in 1987 and began as a linebacker but was moved to nose tackle early in the season and did not play. However, Zorich then earned All-American honors the following season. In his first game, he had one and a half sacks and ten tackles against the University of Michigan and finished the year third on the team in tackles as Notre Dame went undefeated and won the national championship. During his junior year, he followed his initial season with a consensus All-America year in 1989 and was also one of four finalists for the Lombardi Award. Also in 1989 he was voted the UPI Lineman of the Year award as the top lineman in college football. As a senior, Zorich won the Lombardi Award and was recognized as a unanimous All-America. In the final game of his college career he was the Defensive Most Valuable player of the 1991 Orange Bowl.
Zorich earned a Juris Doctor (J.D.) degree at Notre Dame and established the Christopher Zorich Foundation in 1993 to assist disadvantaged families. He is a past recipient of USA WEEKEND's Most Caring Athlete Award and the Jesse Owens Foundation Humanitarian Award. Zorich has also worked as a motivational speaker.
On July 8, 2010, the Chicago Tribune reported that the Chris Zorich Foundation was in contravention of state and federal laws, having not filed tax returns and various forms for many years. The paper also reported that the charity was defunct, with $864,000 in funds unaccounted for. Zorich replied that he was in the process of locating bank statements and acquiring an accounting firm to audit the foundation's books. In August 2012, following an investigation by the Illinois Attorney General's office, he agreed to start paying back about $350,000 for unaccounted funds. In March 2013, Zorich agreed to plead guilty to federal tax charges.