Although John Lithgow is an actor with a broad range of interests and talents in every area of the entertainment industry-and even outside it, he has been working in show business since the early seventies, and has achieved stunning success in wildly varied ventures. A list of his restless pursuits strains credulity.
At heart, Lithgow is a theater actor. In 1973, he won a Tony Award three weeks after his Broadway debut in David Storey's The Changing Room. Since then, he has appeared on Broadway 18 more times, earning another Tony, 3 more Tony nominations, 4 Drama Desk Awards, and induction into the Theatre Hall of Fame. His performances have included major roles in My Fat Friend, Trelawney of the "Wells," Comedians, Anna Christie, Bedroom Farce, Beyond Therapy, M. Butterfly, The Front Page, and, most recently, Retreat from Moscow, Mrs. Farnsworth, and the musicals Sweet Smell of Success (his second Tony), and Dirty Rotten Scoundrels. In 2007, Lithgow made his Royal Shakespeare Company debut as Malvolio in Neil Bartlett's production of Twelfth Night, a rare honor for an American actor. In the fall of 2008, he returned to the Broadway stage as Joe Keller in the critically acclaimed revival of the Arthur Miller classic, All My Sons. Most recently, Lithgow presented his critically acclaimed one man show, John Lithgow: STORIES BY HEART at Lincoln Center and has just finished a run of the acclaimed show to London's National Theatre.
In the early 1980s Lithgow began to make a major mark in films. At that time, he was nominated for Oscars in back-to-back years, for The World According to Garp and Terms of Endearment. In the years before and after, he has appeared in more than 30 films. Notable among them have been All That Jazz, Blow Out, Twilight Zone: the Movie, Footloose, 2010, Buckaroo Banzai, Harry and the Hendersons, Raising Cain, Ricochet, Cliffhanger, Orange County, Shrek, Kinsey, a flashy cameo in Dreamgirls and in the recent Confessions of a Shopaholic.
For his work on television, Lithgow has been nominated for 10 Emmy Awards. He has won four of them, one for an episode of Amazing Stories, and three for what is perhaps his most celebrated creation, the loopy character of the alien High Commander, Dick Solomon, on the hit NBC comedy series 3rd Rock from the Sun. In that show's six-year run, Lithgow also won the Golden Globe, two SAG Awards, The American Comedy Award, and, when it finally went off the air, a Star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
His other major appearances on television have included roles in The Day After, Resting Place, Baby Girl Scott, My Brother's Keeper, TNT's Don Quixote, and HBO's The Life and Death of Peter Sellers. He is currently starring in the critically acclaimed Showtime series Dexter.
And then there is Lithgow's work for children.
Since 1998 he has written seven NY Times best-selling children's picture books, including The Remarkable Farkle McBride, Marsupial Sue, Micawber, and I'm a Manatee and his most recent I Got Two Dogs. In addition, he has created two Lithgow Palooza activity books for parents and children, Lithgow Palooza Readers for use in elementary schools, and the forthcoming The Poets' Corner for Warner Books, a compilation of 50 classic poems aimed at young people, to stir an early interest in poetry. All of this work has won him two Parents' Choice Silver Honor Awards, and four Grammy Award nominations.
He sings, too.
Lithgow has performed concerts for children with the Chicago, Detroit, Baltimore, San Diego, and Pittsburgh Symphonies where he returns this season. Last season, he appeared at Carnegie Hall with the Orchestra of St. Luke's and the Ft. Worth Symphony Orchestra as well as the Chicago Symphony Orchestra in his version of Carnival of the Animals. He has released three kids' albums, Singin' in the Bathtub, Farkle & Friends, and the Grammy-nominated The Sunny Side of the Street, released by Razor & Tie Records. All of these concerts and albums have included several his of own songs and rhyming narrations.
And then there is the ballet.
In 2003, the noted choreographer Christopher Wheeldon invited Lithgow to collaborate with him on a new piece for the New York City Ballet. The result was Carnival of the Animals, a ballet for 50 dancers, with music by Camille Saint-Saens and with Lithgow's verse narration. Lithgow himself spoke the narration from the stage. At a certain point he ducked into the wings, climbed into costume, and re-emerged to dance the role of The Elephant. He has performed this feat 20 times, and will repeat it with the Houston and Pennsylvania Ballets. The project also spawned another award-winning children's book, Carnival of the Animals, and another Grammy-nominated CD.
John Lithgow was born in Rochester, New York, but grew up in Ohio, graduated from high school in Princeton, New Jersey, attended Harvard College, and used a Fulbright Grant to study at the London Academy of Music & Dramatic Art. He was honored by Harvard with an Honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters in 2005, and, at that time, was invited to deliver the school's Commencement Address. He concluded his address with a new children's book, written for the occasion and dedicated to Harvard's Class of '05. The book, Mahalia Mouse Goes to College, is calculated to instill an interest in higher education in very small children. It is a March 2007 release from Simon & Schuster.
Mr. Lithgow has three grown children, a granddaughter, and lives in Los Angles with his wife Mary, a Professor of Economic and Business History at UCLA.