BCL-2 family proteins are the regulators of apoptosis, but also have other functions. This family of interacting partners includes inhibitors and inducers of cell death. Together they regulate and mediate the process by which mitochondria contribute to cell death known as the intrinsic apoptosis pathway. This pathway is required for normal embryonic development and for preventing cancer. However, before apoptosis is induced, BCL-2 proteins have critical roles in normal cell physiology related to neuronal activity, autophagy, calcium handling, mitochondrial dynamics and energetics, and other processes of normal healthy cells. The relative importance of these physiological functions compared to their apoptosis functions in overall organismal physiology is difficult to decipher. Apoptotic and noncanonical functions of these proteins may be intertwined to link cell growth to cell death. Disentanglement of these functions may require delineation of biochemical activities inherent to the characteristic three-dimensional shape shared by distantly related viral and cellular BCL-2 family members.