John Lithgow is a veteran American actor, comedian, poet, as well as a singer who has appeared in over hundred film and television productions in the last five decades. Lithgow is popularly known for playing the role of ‘Dick Solomon’ in the NBC sitcom ‘3rd Rock from the Sun’ for which he received an Emmy Award and a Golden Globes Award. His other Emmy Awards came for the roles of ‘Arthur Mitchell’ in ‘Dexter’, ‘John Walters’ in ‘Amazing Stories’, and ‘Winston Churchill’ in ‘The Crown’. He was nominated for the Academy Awards twice for his roles in the films ‘The World According to Garp’ and ‘Terms of Endearment’. He has also played significant roles in films like ‘Blow Out’, ‘The Life and Death of Peter Sellers’, ‘Interstellar’, ‘The Accountant’, and ‘Pitch Perfect 3’. Lithgow started his journey as a theatre actor, appearing in various Broadway productions including the musical adaptations of ‘Dirty Rotten Scoundrels’ and ‘Sweet Smell of Success’. He has also appeared in ‘The Changing Room’, ‘Hamlet’, ‘The Columnist’, and ‘A Delicate Balance’. Apart from being a versatile actor, Lithgow is also famous as a musician. He was nominated four times for the Grammy Award for his singles and albums like ‘Carnival of the Animals’ and ‘The Sunny Side of the Street’.
Childhood & Early Life
John Arthur Lithgow was born in Rochester, New York, on October 19, 1945, to Sarah Jane, an actress by profession, and Arthur Washington Lithgow III, a former producer and director who owned the McCarter Theatre in Princeton, New Jersey. He is of mixed ancestry.
Lithgow went to Harvard College and earned his bachelor’s degree in in history and literature in 1967. Later, he earned a Fulbright Scholarship and went to study at the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art.
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Career in Theatre
John Lithgow’s career started in the theatre industry. He won the Tony Award and the Drama Desk Award for his role in the Broadway production of David Storey's ‘The Changing Room’ in 1973. A Year later, he portrayed ‘James’ in Robert Moore’s ‘My Fat Friend’ as well as appeared as ‘Laertes’ in Michael Rudman’s ‘Hamlet’ in 1975.
He appeared alongside Meryl Streep in Arvin Brown’s directorial venture ‘A Memory of Two Mondays’ (also known as ‘27 Wagons Full of Cotton’) in which he portrayed the character of ‘Kenneth’. Lithgow received a nomination at the Tony Awards for Best Actor after his performance in the teleplay ‘Requiem for a Heavyweight,’ and later, another nomination for ‘M. Butterfly’.
In the early and mid 2000s, Lithgow appeared in two critically acclaimed roles in Broadway. The first one was in the Broadway adaptation of the 1957 film ‘Sweet Smell of Success’, in which he portrayed ‘J. J. Hunsecker’ at the Martin Beck Theatre. He won a Tony Award for Best Leading Actor in a Musical for his performance.
In 2005, he appeared in the comedy musical ‘Dirty Rotten Scoundrels’ by David Yazbek. He was nominated at the Tony Awards for the Best Leading Actor in a Musical. The stage adaptation of American playwright David Auburn’s ‘The Columnist’ earned him another nomination at the Tony Awards for Best Actor in a Play.
He has also appeared in a stage adaptation of Arthur Wing Pinero's ‘The Magistrate’, the Broadway revival of Arthur Miller's ‘All My Sons’, and Shakespeare's ‘King Lear’ by Daniel Sullivan.
John Lithgow’s first appearance in a film was in 1972, as ‘John’ in a Paul Williams directorial venture ‘Dealing: Or the Berkeley-to-Boston Forty-Brick Lost-Bag Blues’. Four years later, he portrayed ‘Robert Laselle’ in Brian De Palma’s psychological thriller ‘Obsession’.
He then appeared in films like ‘The Big Fix’, ‘All That Jazz’, and ‘Blow Out’ before appearing in George Roy Hill’s comedy-drama film ‘The World According to Garp’ in 1982. He portrayed the character of ‘Roberta Muldoon’ and appeared alongside Robin Williams. He was nominated at the Academy Awards for the Best Supporting Actor for his outstanding performance.
In 1984, Lithgow was again nominated at the Academy Awards for his portrayal of ‘Sam Burns’ in James L. Brooks’ directorial ‘Terms of Endearment’ (1983). The film was an adaptation of Larry McMurtry’s 1975 novel of the same title.
He portrayed the character of a physicist ‘Dr. Emilio Lizardo’ (aka ‘Lord John Whorfin’), whose body was inhabited by an evil alien, in the 1984 American science fiction romantic adventure comedy film ‘The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension’.
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He played the character of ‘Reverend Shaw Moore’, a pastor who talks against the art of dancing in the film ‘Footloose.’ In the sequel of ‘2001: A Space Odyssey’, which was titled as ‘2010’, Lithgow played ‘Walter Curnow’, a space engineer. He later portrayed an evil toy-maker in the film ‘Santa Claus: The Movie’ in 1985.
During the 1990s, he appeared in numerous films, playing supporting roles. Some of the popular films he appeared in during this time were ‘Memphis Belle’, ‘At Play in the Fields of the Lord’, ‘Raising Cain’, ‘The Pelican Brief’, ‘Cliffhanger’, ‘A Good Man in Africa’, and ‘A Civil Action’.
In 2004, he appeared in the British-American television film ‘The Life and Death of Peter Sellers’, a film based on the life story of comedian Peter Sellers. He then appeared in Bill Condon’s American romantic musical drama ‘Dreamgirls’, alongside Jamie Foxx, Beyoncé Knowles, and Eddie Murphy.
In the 2011 science fiction film ‘Rise of the Planet of the Apes’ he portrayed the character of ‘Charles Rodman’, the mentally troubled father of James Franco’s character.
John Lithgow has appeared in almost forty television shows and films in his career. After appearing in numerous minor roles, he received his first regular role in a television show in 1996 in ‘3rd Rock from the Sun’, a sitcom which gave the actor wider recognition in the show business.
In ‘3rd Rock from the Sun,’ he portrayed the role of ‘Dick Solomon’. Lithgow received numerous nominations and won multiple awards for his work in the show, including three Primetime Emmy Awards.
In the crime drama television series ‘Dexter’, Lithgow portrayed the antagonist ‘Arthur Mitchell’ in the 2009 season. He was named by ‘Rolling Stone’ in their list of ‘40 Greatest TV Villains of All Time’ at number 34.
He portrayed the character of ‘John Mason’ in the American sitcom ‘Twenty Good Years’ in 2006 as well as appeared in TV productions like ‘How I Met Your Mother’, ‘Once Upon a Time in Wonderland’ (voice), and ‘Drunk History’.
In the Netflix original historical drama web television ‘The Crown’, he portrayed the first Prime Minister of the UK, ‘Winston Churchill.’ He played a significant role in the show for two seasons and was nominated at numerous award shows, winning several of them including a Primetime Emmy Award.
John Lithgow has contributed a lot towards children’s entertainment, including writing books and composing music albums. He was nominated at the Grammy Awards four times. ‘Ogden Nash's the Christmas that Almost wasn't’ earned him a nomination for ‘Best Spoken Word Album for Children’ and ‘The World According to Mr. Rogers’ earned him a Best Spoken Word Album nomination.
In 2005, he was nominated for the Grammy Best Spoken Word Album for Children award for his humorous musical suite ‘Carnival of the Animals’. In 2007, he received another nomination for his album ‘The Sunny Side of the Street’ in the category of Best Musical Album for Children.
John Lithgow’s role in Bonnie Turner and Terry Turner’s science fiction sitcom ‘3rd Rock from the Sun’ was his greatest success as an actor. He portrayed the character of ‘Dick Solomon’, the High Commander of an alien unit. He won a Golden Globe Award for Best Actor – Television Series Musical or Comedy in 1997. He further won an American Comedy Award and three Primetime Emmy Awards between 1996 and 2001.
His character of the serial killer ‘Arthur Mitchell,’ famously knows as the ‘Trinity Killer,’ in the crime drama series ‘Dexter’ showcased his acting ability to portray a very dark character. He was the main villain in the fourth season of the show and won a Satellite Award in 2009, a Golden Globe Award in 2010, and a Primetime Emmy Award in 2010.
Lithgow’s portrayal of ‘Winston Churchill’ in the historical drama web television series ‘The Crown’ earned him multiple nominations and awards. The show was a Netflix original by Left Bank Pictures and Sony Pictures Television. He won a Primetime Emmy Award, a Screen Actors Guild Award, and a Critics' Choice Television Award. He was also nominated at the Golden Globe Awards and at the British Academy Television Awards for his outstanding performance in the series.
In 1966, John Lithgow married Jean Taynton, a teacher by profession, and had a son named Ian David Lithgow. Their son is a clinical psychologist and an actor by profession.
An affair between John Lithgow and actress Liv Ullmann created a rift between the actor and his wife, and eventually, they ended their marriage in a divorce in 1980. A year later, Lithgow married Mary Yeager, a history professor at the University of California, Los Angeles. The couple has two children together, a daughter Phoebe and a son Nathan.