John Lithgow

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John Lithgow
John Lithgow 8 by David Shankbone.jpg
John Lithgow in 2007
Born John Arthur Lithgow
(1945-10-19) October 19, 1945 (age 68)
Rochester, New York, U.S.
Alma mater Harvard College
Occupation Actor, musician, poet, author
Years active 1972–present
Spouse(s) Jean Taynton (1966–1980)
Mary Yeager (1981–present)
Children Ian Lithgow
Phoebe Lithgow
Nathan Lithgow

John Arthur Lithgow (/ˈlɪθɡ/ LITH-goh; born October 19, 1945) is an American actor, musician, and author. Lithgow has been involved with a wide range of media projects, including stage, television, film, and radio. He also has written and published several books of poetry and children's literature. He appeared in the films The World According to Garp (1982) and Terms of Endearment (1983), receiving an Academy Award nomination for Best Actor in a Supporting Role for each.

Lithgow is well known for his roles as the Reverend Shaw Moore in Footloose, Dick Solomon on the NBC sitcom 3rd Rock from the Sun, the voice of Lord Farquaad in Shrek, and Arthur Mitchell on Showtime's Dexter, for which he won Golden Globe and Emmy awards. On the stage, he appeared in the musical adaptation of Sweet Smell of Success, winning the Tony Award for Best Leading Actor in a Musical. He again appeared in a musical, Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, again receiving a Tony nomination for Best Leading Actor in a Musical. He has also recorded music, such as the 1999 album of children's music, Singin' in the Bathtub, and has written poetry and short stories, such as Marsupial Sue, for children.

Early life[edit]

Lithgow was born in Rochester, New York. His mother, Sarah Jane (née Price), was a retired actress. His father, Arthur Washington Lithgow III, was a theatrical producer and director who ran the McCarter Theatre in Princeton, New Jersey.[1][2] Because of his father's job, the family moved frequently during Lithgow's childhood; he spent his teenage years in Akron (living at Stan Hywet[3]) and Lakewood, Ohio.[4]

Lithgow attended Harvard College, and graduated with an A.B. magna cum laude in 1967, in history and literature. He lived in Adams House as an undergraduate. Lithgow later served on Harvard's Board of Overseers. Lithgow credits a performance at Harvard of Gilbert and Sullivan's Utopia Limited with helping him decide to become an actor.[5] After graduation, Lithgow won a Fulbright Scholarship to study at the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art.

Stage career[edit]

In 1973, Lithgow debuted on Broadway in David Storey's The Changing Room, for which he received both the Tony and Drama Desk Award as Best Featured Actor in a Play. The following year he starred opposite Lynn Redgrave in My Fat Friend, and in 1976 he starred opposite Meryl Streep in Arthur Miller's A Memory of Two Mondays. He was nominated for the Best Actor Tony Awards for Requiem for a Heavyweight (1985) and M. Butterfly (directed by John Dexter, 1988).

In 2002, Lithgow won a Tony Award for Best Leading Actor in a Musical for his portrayal of J.J. Hunsecker in the Broadway adaptation of the 1957 film Sweet Smell of Success. In 2005, Lithgow was elected into the American Theater Hall of Fame for his work on Broadway.[6] He was also nominated for a Best Leading Actor in a Musical Tony for Dirty Rotten Scoundrels.

In 2007, Lithgow played Malvolio in the Royal Shakespeare Company's production of Twelfth Night, at The Courtyard Theatre, Stratford-upon-Avon, United Kingdom.[7]

In 2008 through 2009, Lithgow played Joe Keller in a Broadway revival of Arthur Miller's All My Sons.[8]

Lithgow starred alongside Jennifer Ehle in Douglas Carter Beane's comedy Mr & Mrs Fitch presented Off-Broadway by Second Stage Theatre from February 22, 2010 to April 4, 2010.[9]

Lithgow returned to Broadway as Joseph Alsop in the Manhattan Theatre Club production of David Auburn's new play The Columnist, with previews starting on April 4, 2012.[10]

The National Theatre tempted Lithgow to appear on the London stage in the winter of 2012/13 as Police Magistrate Aeneas Posket in a revival of Arthur Wing Pinero's The Magistrate.

It was announced in February 2014 that he will return to Central Park's Delacorte Theater and Shakespeare in the Park for the first time since 1975 in the title role of Shakespeare's King Lear directed by Tony Award Winner Daniel Sullivan. The performance will also mark the plays first appearance in the popular series that features free tickets to the public in 41 years.[11]

Film career[edit]

In 1979, Lithgow portrayed Lucas Sergeant in Bob Fosse's semi-autobiographical movie All That Jazz. The character was loosely based on the real-life director/choreographer Michael Bennett, best known for his work on Dreamgirls and A Chorus Line.

In 1983 and 1984, Lithgow was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor for his performances as Roberta Muldoon in The World According to Garp and as Sam Burns in Terms of Endearment. Both films were screen adaptations of popular novels. Lithgow originated the character of Dr. Emilio Lizardo/Lord John Whorfin, an Italian physicist inhabited by an evil alien, which he played in the 1984 cult film The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension. In 1984, Lithgow also played a pastor who condemns dancing in Footloose. He later played the role of American space engineer Walter Curnow in 2010, the sequel to the science fiction classic 2001: A Space Odyssey.

John Lithgow on the red carpet at the 40th Annual Primetime Emmy Awards on August 28, 1988.

In 1983, Lithgow appeared in a remake of the classic Twilight Zone episode "Nightmare at 20,000 Feet" in Twilight Zone: The Movie as the paranoid passenger made famous on the television show by William Shatner. In an interview with Bill Moyers Lithgow reveals this role as his favorite of his film career.[12] In 1991, he starred in the movie Ricochet opposite Denzel Washington as Earl Talbot Blake, a criminal seeking revenge against the policeman who sent him to prison. In 1992, he starred as a man with multiple personality disorder in Brian De Palma's film Raising Cain and the narrator in Doctor Seuss Video Classics: Yertle the Turtle and Other Stories, and in 1993, starred as the villainous Eric Qualen in the Sylvester Stallone movie Cliffhanger.

In 1987, Lithgow starred in the Bigfoot-themed family comedy Harry and the Hendersons. In 2002, he narrated Life's Greatest Miracle, a documentary about human embryonic development, while in 2004, he portrayed the moralistic, rigid father of Alfred Kinsey in that year's biopic Kinsey. In 2006, Lithgow had a small role in the Academy Award-winning film Dreamgirls, as Jerry Harris, a film producer offering Deena Jones (Beyoncé Knowles) a film role.[13] He starred in a lead role in the science fiction film Rise of the Planet of the Apes.[14]

As a voice actor, Lithgow is well known for his role as the evil Lord Farquaad in the Shrek movie franchise. His appearances as Farquaad include Shrek, Shrek in the Swamp Karaoke Dance Party, Shrek 4-D which was originally Shrek 3-D and used as an amusement park attraction, and Shrek the Third. He also was in Confessions of a Shopaholic as Edgar West.

Television career[edit]

In terms of his television career, Lithgow is probably most widely known for his starring role as Dick Solomon in the 1996–2001 NBC sitcom 3rd Rock from the Sun. He was nominated for a Primetime Emmy Award in the category Outstanding Lead Actor in a Comedy Series in each of the program's six seasons and won three times, in 1996, 1997, and 1999. His son Ian regularly appeared alongside him as Leon, one of his physics students.

In 1986, Lithgow received a Primetime Emmy Award in the category Outstanding Guest Performer in a Drama Series for his appearance in the episode The Doll of the Amazing Stories anthology series.

Additionally, Lithgow has been nominated for an Emmy Award for Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Limited Series or a Special for The Day After (1983), and two Emmy Awards for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Miniseries or a Special for Resting Place (1986) and My Brother's Keeper (1995). Lithgow was approached about playing Dr. Frasier Crane on Cheers, but turned it down. Lithgow starred with Jeffrey Tambor in the NBC sitcom Twenty Good Years.

Since 2006 he has starred in Campbell Soup Company's commercials advertising their Campbell's Select premium soup brand.

On March 5, 2009, Lithgow made a cameo on NBC's 30 Rock, in the episode "Goodbye, My Friend," with several references to his role in Harry and the Hendersons.

In September 2009, Lithgow joined the cast of Dexter as Arthur Mitchell, a serial killer and Dexter Morgan's nemesis.[15] He won a Golden Globe Award for this role,[16] and won an Emmy for Outstanding Guest Actor In A Drama Series.[17]

He guest starred on How I Met Your Mother in the role of Barney Stinson's father, Jerry.[18]

Children's entertainment[edit]

Lithgow reading a book to children in 2007

Lithgow has done extensive work for children, including several books and albums. Some of his book titles are Marsupial Sue, Marsupial Sue Presents "The Runaway Pancake," Lithgow Party Paloozas!: 52 Unexpected Ways to Make a Birthday, Holiday, or Any Day a Celebration for Kids, Carnival of the Animals, A Lithgow Palooza: 101 Ways to Entertain and Inspire Your Kids, I'm a Manatee, Micawber, The Remarkable Farkle McBride, Mahalia Mouse Goes to College and I Got Two Dogs. He also appeared as a guest on the Canadian children's program, Ants in Your Pants.

Lithgow launched into a career as a recording artist with the 1999 album of children's music, Singin' in the Bathtub. In June 2002, Lithgow released his second children's album Farkle and Friends. It was the musical companion to his book The Remarkable Farkle McBride, which tells the story of a young musical genius. Farkle and Friends features the vocal talents of Lithgow and Bebe Neuwirth backed by the Bill Elliott Swing Orchestra. In August 2006, Lithgow released The Sunny Side of the Street, his third children's album and first with Razor & Tie. This album features versions of classic songs from The Great American Songbook including “Getting to Know You” and “Ya Gotta Have Pep”. Produced by JC Hopkins, the album features guest appearances by Madeleine Peyroux, Wayne Knight, Sherie Rene Scott and Maude Maggart. Lithgow also makes occasional appearances on stage and television singing children's songs and accompanying himself on guitar.


On October 1, 2010, Lithgow appeared on Doug Benson's podcast Doug Loves Movies, along with fellow guests Paul F. Tompkins and Jimmy Pardo. He has also appeared on Chris Hardwick's show The Nerdist Podcast.

Other appearances[edit]

Lithgow voiced the character of Yoda in the National Public Radio adaptations of The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi. He provided narration for the IMAX film Special Effects: Anything Can Happen. He hosts Paloozaville, a children's Video on Demand program on Mag Rack based on his best-selling children's books. He appeared in the most recent Campbell's SelectSoups commercials, portraying a restaurant waiter serving "customers" in their own household. He often delivers commencement addresses at American universities. Lithgow also appears in Books By You, a children's computer game, and guides them through the steps to finish a pre-designed book.[19]

In 2005, Lithgow became the first actor ever to deliver a commencement speech at Harvard University[20] and received an honorary Doctor of Arts from his alma mater.[21][22][23] He was featured at Heinz Hall in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania on December 4–6, 2009 for performances of Mozart's Requiem with the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra. He narrated some letters written by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, some poems, and sections from the Book of Revelation in certain parts of the performance.[24]

In 2011, he performed a dramatic reading of a Newt Gingrich press release on The Colbert Report[25] and made a call to Colbert's annual Atone Phone "by mistake."[26] He also voiced a South Carolina TV ad for Colbert Super PAC humorously attacking Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney.[27]

In September 2011, Lithgow was featured in a one-night only production of Dustin Lance Black's play, 8 — a staged reenactment of the federal trial that overturned California's Prop 8 ban on same-sex marriage — as Attorney Theodore Olson to raise money for the American Foundation for Equal Rights.[28]

Awards and nominations[edit]

Lithgow has won five Emmy Awards, two Tony Awards, two Golden Globe Awards, an American Comedy Award and two Screen Actors Guild Awards.[29] He has also been nominated twice for the Academy Award for Best Actor in a Supporting Role.[29][30] He won the Golden Globe Award for Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role in a Series, Mini-Series or Motion Picture Made for Television for his appearance as Arthur Mitchell on Dexter.[31]



Year Title Role Notes
1972 Dealing: Or the Berkeley-to-Boston
Forty-Brick Lost-Bag Blues
1976 Obsession Robert Laselle
1977 Secret Service Unknown
1978 The Big Fix Sam Sebastian
1979 All That Jazz Lucas Sargent
1979 Rich Kids Paul Phillips
1981 Blow Out Burke
1982 Big Blonde Herbie Morse
1982 Mom, the Wolfman and Me Wally
1982 The Oldest Living Graduate Clarence
1982 I'm Dancing as Fast as I Can Mr. Brunner
1982 Not in Front of the Children Richard Carruthers
1982 The World According to Garp Roberta Muldoon Los Angeles Film Critics Association Award for Best Supporting Actor
Nominated-Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor
1983 Terms of Endearment Sam Burns Nominated-Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor
1983 The Day After Joe Huxley
1983 Twilight Zone: The Movie John Valentine Saturn Award for Best Supporting Actor
1984 Footloose Reverend Shaw Moore
1984 The Adventures of Buckaroo
Banzai Across the 8th Dimension
Lord John Worfin Nominated-Saturn Award for Best Supporting Actor
1984 2010: The Year We Make Contact Dr. Walter Curnow
1984 The Glitter Dome Marty Wellborn
1985 Santa Claus: The Movie B.Z.
1986 Mesmerized Unknown
1986 The Manhattan Project John Mathewson
1986 Resting Place Kendall Laird Nominated-Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Miniseries or a Movie
1987 Harry and the Hendersons George Henderson
1987 Baby Girl Scott Neil Scott Television film
1988 Distant Thunder Mark Lambert
1989 Traveling Man Ben Cluett Television film
1989 Out Cold Dave
1990 Memphis Belle Bruce Derringer
1990 Ivory Hunters Robert Carter
1991 L.A. Story Harry Zell
1991 The Boys Artie Marguiles
1991 At Play in the Fields of the Lord Leslie Huben
1991 Ricochet Earl Talbot Blake
1992 Raising Cain Carter Nominated-Saturn Award for Best Actor
1992 Yertle the Turtle and Other Stories Narrator
1993 The Wrong Man Phillip Mills
1993 The Country Mouse & the City Mouse Alexander
1993 The Pelican Brief Smith Keen
1993 Love, Cheat & Steal Paul Harrington
1993 Cliffhanger Eric Qualen Nominated-Razzie Award for Worst Supporting Actor
1994 World War II: When Lions Roared Franklin Delano Roosevelt Television film
1994 Silent Fall Dr. Rene Harlinger
1994 Princess Caraboo Professor Wilkinson
1994 A Good Man in Africa Arthur Fanshawe
1995 Redwood Curtain Laird Television film
1995 My Brother's Keeper Tom Bradley Television film
1995 The Tuskegee Airmen Senator Conyers Television film
1996 Hollow Point Thomas Livingston
1998 Homegrown Robert Stockman
1998 Johnny Skidmarks Larry Skovik
1998 Officer Buckle and Gloria Narrator
1998 A Civil Action Judge Walter Skinner
2000 Don Quixote Don Quixote de la Mancha Television film
Nominated-Screen Actors Guild Award for Outstanding Performance by a Male Actor in a Miniseries or Television Movie
2000 Rugrats in Paris: The Movie Jean-Claude Voice
2000 C-Scam Unknown
2001 Shrek Lord Farquaad Voice
2002 Orange County Bud Brumder
2004 The Life and Death of Peter Sellers Blake Edwards
2004 Kinsey Alfred Kinsey
2005 Einstein's Big Idea Narrator Television film
2006 Dreamgirls Jerry Harris
2007 Shrek the Third Lord Farquaad Voice
2009 Confessions of a Shopaholic Edgar West
2010 Leap Year Jack Brady
2011 Rise of the Planet of the Apes Charles Rodman
2011 New Year's Eve Jonathan Cox Uncredited
2012 The Campaign Glenn Motch
2012 This Is 40 Oliver
2014 Love Is Strange Ben
2014 Interstellar Donald Post-production
2013 The Homesman Reverend Dowd Post-production
2015 The Good Dinosaur Poppa Voice, Filming


Year Title Role Notes
1984 Faerie Tale Theatre Goldilocks' father Episode: "Goldilocks and the Three Bears"
1995 Tales from the Crypt Dr. Oscar Charles Episode: "You, Murderer"
1995 Frasier Madman Martinez Episode: "Someone to Watch Over Me"
1996–2001 3rd Rock from the Sun Dr. Dick Solomon 139 episodes
American Comedy Award for Funniest Male Lead on Television
Golden Globe Award for Best Actor - Television Series Musical or Comedy
Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Comedy Series (1996-1997, 1999)
Satellite Award for Best Actor - Television Series Musical or Comedy
Screen Actors Guild Award for Outstanding Performance by a Male Actor in a Comedy Series (1997-1998)
Nominated-Golden Globe Award for Best Actor - Television Series Musical or Comedy (1998-1999)
Nominated-People's Choice Award for Funniest Male Television Performer (1996-1999)
Nominated-Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Comedy Series (1998, 2000-2001)
Nominated-Satellite Award for Best Actor - Television Series Musical or Comedy
Nominated-Screen Actors Guild Award for Outstanding Performance by an Ensemble in a Comedy Series (1997-1999)
Nominated-TCA Award for Individual Achievement in Comedy
2006 Twenty Good Years John Mason Lead role
2009 Dexter Arthur Mitchell 12 episodes
Golden Globe Award for Best Supporting Actor - Series, Miniseries or Television Film
Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Guest Actor in a Drama Series
Satellite Award for Best Supporting Actor - Series, Miniseries or Television Film
Nominated-Saturn Award for Best Guest Starring Role on Television
Nominated-Screen Actors Guild Award for Outstanding Performance by an Ensemble in a Drama Series
Nominated-TCA Award for Individual Achievement in Drama
2009 The National Parks: America's Best Idea Himself 2 episodes
2011–2014 How I Met Your Mother Jerry Whitaker 4 episodes
2011 Prohibition HL Mencken 3 episodes
2013–present Once Upon a Time in Wonderland White Rabbit Voice





  1. ^ "John Lithgow Biography (1945–)". Retrieved 2013-02-26. 
  2. ^ "John Lithgow Biography – Yahoo! Movies". Retrieved 2013-02-26. 
  3. ^ Breckenridge, Mary Beth (2013-04-19). "Actor Lithgow Revisits Akron Roots". Akron Beacon Journal. Retrieved 2013-04-21. 
  4. ^ NBC. "Former Akronite John Lithgow takes on killer role for 'Dexter'". Retrieved 2013-02-26. 
  5. ^ "'Stupid mistake' changed John Lithgow's life – for the better < News". PopMatters. 2006-10-09. Retrieved 2013-02-26. 
  6. ^ "Theater Hall of Fame inducts Thompson, Lithgow, others". Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. 
  7. ^ Billington, Michael. "Theatre review: 'Twelfth Night', The Courtyard, Stratford-upon-Avon", The Guardian,September 6, 2007
  8. ^ Cohen, Patricia. "Two Fathers Are Learning Lessons of 'All My Sons' ", The New York Times, November 12, 2008
  9. ^ Hernandez, Ernio. "Blurb vs. Blog: Lithgow and Ehle are Gossipers 'Mr. & Mrs. Fitch', Opening Off-Broadway Feb. 22", February 22, 2010
  10. ^ Jones, Kenneth. "John Lithgow Is David Auburn's 'The Columnist', Beginning Broadway Previews April 4", April 4, 2012
  11. ^ Kozinn, Allan (2014-02-13). "Shakespeare in the Park Lineup: ‘Much Ado About Nothing' and ‘King Lear'". The New York Times. 
  12. ^ "Bill Moyers Journal . Watch & Listen". PBS. Retrieved 2013-02-26. 
  13. ^ John Lithgow a Fatherly Figure for 'Planet of the Apes' Prequel
  14. ^ "Trinity, a War Machine, and a Slumdog Eying Planet of the Apes: Rise of the Apes". Retrieved 2013-02-26. 
  15. ^ TV: Showtime's 'Dexter' Posts Record-Breaking Ratings
  16. ^ 2009 Golden Globe Nominees HFPA Nominations and Winners
  17. ^ "2010 Emmy Nominations Include a Few Horror Favorites". 2010-07-08. Retrieved 2013-02-26. 
  18. ^ Michael Ausiello (2011-02-17). "HIMYM Exclusive First Look: How Barney Met His Father". TVLine. Retrieved 2013-02-26. 
  19. ^ [1]
  20. ^ Beth Potier, "Of mice and manatees: Lithgow charms all: Commencement address gives star treatment by actor, author", Harvard Gazette, 2008-06-16.
  21. ^ Avery, Mary Ellen (9 June 2005). "Harvard awards 8 honorary degrees". Havard University Gazette. 
  22. ^ The Harvard Crimson Staff (9 June 2005). "Eight to Receive Honorary Degrees". The Harvard Crimson. 
  23. ^ "Honorary Degrees". Harvard University. 
  24. ^ "'Requiem' an extraordinary Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra tribute to Mozart - Pittsburgh Tribune-Review". 2009-12-05. Retrieved 2013-02-26. 
  25. ^ "John Lithgow Performs Gingrich Press Release - The Colbert Report - 2011-19-05 - Video Clip | Comedy Central". 2011-05-19. Retrieved 2013-02-26. 
  26. ^ "Atone Phone - John Lithgow Calls - The Colbert Report - 2011-28-09 - Video Clip | Comedy Central". 2011-09-28. Retrieved 2013-02-26. 
  27. ^ "Colbert Super PAC Ad - Attack In B Minor For Strings". 2012-01-15. Retrieved 2013-02-26. 
  28. ^ "Prop 8 Play On Broadway Makes Its Debut". The Huffington Post. 2011-09-20. Retrieved March 17, 2012. 
  29. ^ a b Alvin Powell, "Lithgow to speak at Afternoon Exercises: Actor, writer, humanitarian to grace Tercentenary Theatre", Harvard Gazette, 2005-04-07.
  30. ^ In 1982 for his role in The World According to Garp and in 1983 for his role in Terms of Endearment.
  31. ^ HFPA Nominations and Winners HFPA Nominations and Winners

External links[edit]