A graduate of Spiru Haret high-school, he studied literature at the Bucharest University. His debut was a collection of poems, "Zeu printre blocuri" (A God Between Apartment Buildings). In 1969 he published "Prins" (Caught), a very successful novel, which launched him as a reference writer in Romanian literature. He went on a scholarship to Vienna (1971–1972), and in 1974 accepted an invitation from the University of Iowa to participate in the International Writing Program.
When Popescu defected to England in 1975, the Romanian government tried him for treason. All his works in Romania were destroyed, and he was forbidden to return to Romania, an edict that reversed when Nicolae Ceaușescu lost power in 1989. A year later, Popescu moved to the United States, settling in Los Angeles.
Popescu received a letter from Robert Redford inviting him to submit a script for consideration for the Sundance Film Festival. In 1983, Popescu took Death of an Angel to Sundance, where the script came to near finalization. The festival enabled him to find backers for the film, which was released in 1986.