Ortolani was the founder of a popular Italian jazz band prior to his entry into scoring in the 1960s. He found success early with his score for Mondo Cane and for the main theme in particular, "More." The song went on to win him a Grammy and earn him an Oscar nomination.
It was the composer's work on Mondo Cane which would lead to director Ruggero Deodato to choose him for his controversial Cannibal Holocaust in 1980. His music later appeared in the Kill Bill films, Django Unchained, and Drive.
Ortolani founded the Pesaro Riz Ortolani Foundation, which supports music by providing seminars, scholarships, concerts, and exhibitions.
He is survived by his wife, Katyna Ranieri (vocalist on "Oh My Love" from the film Goodbye Uncle Tom), and two sons.