Stage, film, radio, recording, and television actor John Lithgow (b. Rochester, NY, October 19, 1945) is best known for his starring role as Dr. Dick Solomon in the 1996–2001 NBC sitcom 3rd Rock from the Sun. He has appeared successfully on Broadway many times, winning Tony Awards® for The Changing Room (1973) and Sweet Smell of Success (2002), and nominations for Requiem for a Heavyweight (1985), M. Butterfly (1988), and Dirty Rotten Scoundrels (2002). His forty-odd films (Princess Caraboo 1994, Kinsey 2004, Dreamgirls 2006) have also played to great acclaim; The World According to Garp (1982) and Terms of Endearment (1983) brought him Academy Award® nominations. Lithgow was nominated for an Emmy® in each of the six seasons of 3rd Rock, and he won it three times. He has another Emmy® for an episode of Amazing Stories (1986) as well as many other awards and nominations. He has also written books and recorded songs and videos for children.
The father of John Arthur Lithgow was a theatrical entrepreneur who moved his family from place to place during Lithgow’s childhood, finally settling in Princeton, New Jersey, as manager of the McCarter Theater. The young Lithgow attended Princeton High School and won a scholarship to Harvard, where in a performance of Utopia Unlimited by Gilbert and Sullivan he caught the acting bug at last. He married Jean Taynton before the end of college and had a son, Ian, in 1972. After graduation (1967, magna cum laude) he was awarded a Fulbright scholarship to study at the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art.
John Lithgow returned from London to debut on Broadway in 1973, in David Storey’s The Changing Room, for which he won both the Tony® and Drama Desk Award as Best Featured Actor in a Play. He subsequently appeared with Lynn Redgrave in My Fat Friend (1974) and opposite Meryl Streep in Arthur Miller’s A Memory of Two Mondays (1976). Moving to Hollywood, he began a busy career in movies and television, notably playing the director and choreographer Lucas Sergeant in All That Jazz (1979), the semi-autobiographical film by Bob Fosse.
Lithgow made nineteen feature and television films in the next seven years, the high points being The World According to Garp, Terms of Endearment, Twilight Zone: The Movie (1983) (which he claimed was his most difficult assignment ever), and the outrageous spoof, The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai (1984). Continuing his work on television, he was nominated for two Emmys® (The Day After 1983, Resting Place 1986) and was offered the role of Frasier Crane on Cheers, but turned it down. He returned to Broadway in Requiem for a Heavyweight in 1985, and in M. Butterfly in 1988, both of which earned him Tony® nominations.
During this busy time, Lithgow was also bringing up a new family: he and Taynton had divorced in 1980, and he had met UCLA economics professor Mary Yeager and married her in 1981. Their two children Phoebe and Nathan were born soon thereafter.
After another two dozen films or so (My Brother’s Keeper brought Lithgow another Emmy® nomination in 1995), John Lithgow settled into his most famous role, Professor Solomon in the enormously successful series 3rd Rock from the Sun. His son Ian also made regular appearances on the series as a particularly dim-witted student. The show folded after six years, whereupon the star returned to Broadway in Sweet Smell of Success (2002), winning both the Tony® and Drama Desk Awards for Best Actor in a Musical. His 2005 performance in Dirty Rotten Scoundrels earned him yet another Tony® nomination for Best Actor in a Musical.
Lithgow has provided many voiceovers for film, notably the voice of villain Lord Farquaad in Shrek (2001), Yoda in the NPR adaptations of Star Wars episodes, and the narrations for the IMAX film Special Effects and for a sex education film, Life’s Greatest Miracle (2002). He has written many children’s books (I’m a Manatee, Micawber, The Remarkable Farkle McBride, Marsupial Sue), and recorded three musical albums for kids (Singin’ in the Bathtub 1999, Farkle and Friends 2002, The Sunny Side of the Street 2006), occasionally appearing on stage or television singing his songs to his own guitar accompaniment.
Lithgow is a registered pastor of Rose Ministries, and has the authority to perform weddings. In 2005, he was the first actor in history to deliver the commencement speech at Harvard University. His Star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame was installed in 2001, and he was elected to the American Theatre Hall of Fame in 2005. Since 2006 he has been seen in Campbell’s Soup commercials on television and in a computer game for children to design their own books (Books By You). Recently Lithgow played Joe Keller in a Broadway revival of Arthur Miller’s All My Sons, and many, many more projects are on his agenda.