Cervi was born in Bologna. His father was the theatre critic Antonio Cervi. In 1928, he married Nini Gordini (one of his partners) and they had a son, Tonino Cervi. Gino Cervi later became the grandfather of actress Valentina Cervi and producer Antonio Levesi Cervi.
Cervi was best known for his role of Giuseppe Bottazzi ("Peppone"), the Communist mayor in the Don Camillo movies of the 1950s and the 1960s. He shared great complicity and friendship with co-star Fernandel during the 15 years playing their respective roles in Don Camillo movies.
At the end of his career, he played Commissioner Maigret for six years in the Italian version of those murder stories, which ended with a movie Maigret in Pigalle (Mario Landi, 1966), produced by his son Antonio Cervi.
He died at Punta Ala in 1974.