October 19, 1945
Rochester, New York, USA
Actor, Director, Singer, Songwriter, Musician, Playwright
Jean Taynton, Mary Yeager
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A versatile character player who was a familiar face in theater, film and on television, actor John Lithgow proved adept with a wide range of material spanning drama, comedy, science-fiction, family fare and thrillers. With a vast array of talents from which to draw, Lithgow ironically had difficulty translating his acting versatility into stardom. He had his start in the theater, performing in numerous Shakespeare productions before making the jump to features in the early 1970s; most notably as a relentless assassin in the Brian De Palma thriller "Blow Out" (1981). But it was his Oscar-nominated performance as a former football player-turned-transvestite in "The World According to Garp" (1982) that propelled him into the limelight, as well as his follow-up performance of the married but still needy lover of an also married Debra Winger in James L. Brooks' Oscar-winning tearjerker, "Terms of Endearment" (1983). Since that time, Lithgow moved smoothly from stage to screen, performing in a variety of different roles, though he occasionally was typecast as an all-too-evil villain in thrillers like "Ricochet" (1991) and "Cliffhanger" (1993). He became a surprise hit on television with the acclaimed sitcom "3rd Rock from the Sun" (NBC, 1996-2001), which earned the actor three Emmy awards and a lifetime of recognition. By the time he delivered his award-winning turn as a hard-to-catch serial killer on the acclaimed series "Dexter" (Showtime, 2006- ), Lithgow was considered to be one of the most esteemed and respected actors working in the business.
Born on Oct. 19, 1945 in Rochester, NY, Lithgow was raised in a theatrical home by his father, Arthur, a director and actor who managed the McCarter Theatre in Princeton, NJ, and his mother, Sarah Jane, a teacher and former actress. Because his father ran the Anitoch Shakespeare Festival, among a few others, Lithgow was exposed to the theater from an early age. When he was six, he made his performing debut in "Henry VI, Part III" (1951), then continued to appear periodically in productions of "A Midsummer Night's Dream" and "Henry V" throughout his youth. After graduating Princeton High School in Princeton, NJ, Lithgow attended Harvard University where he was president of the Gilbert and Sullivan Society, graduated magna cum laude, and lived in the same dorm as roommates Al Gore and Tommy Lee Jones. He was awarded a Fulbright Scholarship to attend the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art, where he fully delved into the study of his craft. Upon his return to the states, he began his stage career in earnest, directing productions at the McCarter Theatre, then made his feature film in the long-forgotten drug comedy, "Dealing: or the Berkley-to-Boston Forty-Brick Lost-Bag Blues" (1972), playing a drug dealer who entices a straight-laced Harvard student (Robert F. Lyons) to smuggle marijuana from California to Boston.
In 1973, Lithgow made his Broadway debut in "The Changing Room," playwright David Storey's drama about a group of working-class men who play semi-professional rugby. Lithgow won both a Drama Desk Award and a Tony Award for Best Actor, establishing him as a young performer worthy of note. He next starred opposite Lynn Redgrave in Charles Laurence's "My Fat Friend" (1974) on Broadway, then paired up with Meryl Streep for Arthur Miller's "A Memory of Two Mondays" (1976) at the Playhouse Theatre. Lithgow co-starred in Brian De Palma's feature thriller, "Obsession" (1976), playing the friend and business partner of a man (Cliff Robertson) trying to put his tortured past behind him. Following his off-Broadway one-man show, "Kaufman at Large" (1976), Lithgow co-starred with Richard Dreyfuss in the gumsh comedy, "The Big Fix" (1978) before appearing in Bob Fosse's glitzy musical, "All That Jazz" (1979). After co-starring in the coming-of-age drama "Rich Kids" (1979), as well as appearing on small screen fare like "The Oldest Living Graduate" (NBC, 1980) and "Mom, the Wolfman and Me" (Syndicated, 1980), Lithgow began a long series of playing villains, beginning with "Blow Out" (1981), in which he portrayed a cold blooded assassin being pursued by a sound technician (John Travolta) enamored with a prostitute (Nancy Allen) caught up in the murder of Pennsylvania's governor.
Lithgow emerged from being an unknown supporting player to a widely recognized performer with his next project, "The World According to Garp" (1981) - undoubtedly his breakthrough film. Though one of several offbeat supporting players, Lithgow stole the show from the entire cast - which included Robin Williams and Glenn Close - in playing Roberta Muldoon, a former tight end for the Philadelphia Eagles-turned- transvestite who finds a new life and family when he befriends an unwitting feminist leader (Close) and her author son (Williams). Lithgow earned an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actor - his first such honor from the Academy. Following an Oscar-nominated turn in as Debra Winger's befuddled paramour in "Terms of Endearment" (1983) and a role in the post-nuclear war drama "The Day After" (ABC, 1983), he was a crew member on the joint U.S-Russian spaceflight in "2010" (1984), then made an indelible impression as a reverend trying to keep the teenagers in his small town from dancing and rock music in "Footloose" (1984). Lithgow received a Tony Award nomination for the Broadway production of Rod Serling's "Requiem for a Heavyweight" (1985), then played an evil businessman under investigation for making shoddy toys in "Santa Claus: The Movie" (1985).
Thanks to success in the early 1980s, Lithgow's career blossomed throughout the rest of the decade and continued fill tilt into the next. He played a doctor at a research facility where secret plutonium experiments are conducted in "The Manhattan Project" (1986), then was amiable and endearing as the father who befriends a Bigfoot-like monster in the family favorite, "Harry and the Hendersons" (1987). Though he attempted to break free from the confines of playing the villain in less melodramatic fare like "Distant Thunder" (1988) and "Traveling Man" (1989), his efforts went largely unnoticed. He returned to the stage for the Tony-nominated role of Rene Gallimard, who falls in love with a beautiful Chinese opera singer who is really a man, in "M. Butterfly" (1988). After a small role in the ensemble "Memphis Belle" (1990), Lithgow was over-the-top evil as an escaped convict who wants revenge on the cop (Denzel Washington) who sent him to prison in the often ridiculous thriller, "Ricochet" (1991). In "At Play in the Fields of the Lord" (1991), Lithgow starred as an evangelist missionary who helps two Americans (Tom Berenger and Tom Waits) stranded in the Amazon jungle.
Lithgow was borderline campy in, "Raising Cain" (1992), a Jekyll & Hyde-like thriller directed by Brian De Palma, which the actor followed by playing an over-the-top fugitive battling the leader of a mountain rescue team (Sylvester Stallone) in "Cliffhanger" (1993). Lithgow starred in a string of film and television projects, including "The Wrong Man" (Showtime, 1993), the forgettable feature drama "A Good Man in Africa" (1994) and "My Brother's Keeper" (CBS, 1995), which earned him his first Emmy Award nod, before starring in his first sitcom as a regular, "3rd Rock From the Sun." As the arrogant, self-absorbed and sometimes foolish leader of a group of aliens who have been sent to observe life on Earth - particularly on how to understand the human condition - Lithgow displayed surefire comic timing while doing anything for a laugh, including wearing a dress. Though not exactly a ratings-getter, "3rd Rock" was hailed by critics and earned several awards, including three Emmys for Lithgow for Best Actor in 1996, 1997 and 1999.
Long dedicated to working with children, Lithgow made his recording artist debut with Singin' in the Bathtub, a collection of songs for kids. Meanwhile, during his sitcom's run, he made appearances in features like "Homegrown" (1998) and "A Civil Action" (1999), then played the titular romantic hero in the faithful small screen adaptation of "Don Quixote" (TNT, 2000). Adding yet another eccentric character to his overflowing gallery, he garnered excellent reviews for his performance as he introduced the classic story to a new generation. By the time "3rd Rock" left the airwaves, Lithgow returned to more light-hearted fare, lending his distinctive voice to the animated feature films "Rugrats in Paris - The Movie" (2000) and "Shrek" (2001); the latter in which he played the diminutive, but arrogant villain Lord Farquaad. In 2002, he released his second children's album, Farkle and Friends alongside the companion book, The Remarkable Farkle McBride. Lithgow also authored other popular children's' books, including Micawber (2002), I'm a Manatee (2003) and Carnival of the Animals (2004).
After a small role in the independent feature, "Orange County" (2002), Lithgow played the stern, devout and disapproving father of famed sex researcher Alfred Kinsey (Liam Neeson) in ""Kinsey" (2004), before portraying filmmaker Blake Edwards in the acclaimed telepic, "The Life and Death of Peter Sellers" (HBO, 2004). Lithgow kept returning to the stage, headlining a 2000 workshop of "Sweet Smell of Success" and assumed the role of J.J. Hunsecker when the production went to Broadway in 2002. For his acclaimed performance, he won a Tony for Best Performance by a Leading Actor in a Musical. In 2003, he joined Eileen Atkins in the William Nicholson drama "The Retreat from Moscow," at the Booth Theatre, then starred as the sophisticated con artist Lawrence Jameson, the Michael Caine role in the musical stage production of "Dirty Rotten Scoundrels" at New York's Imperial Theatre, for which he earned yet another Tony nomination. Following a small role as a film producer in "Dreamgirls" (2006), he starred in a Broadway revival of Arthur Miller's "All My Sons" (2008) at the Gerald Sch nfeld Theatre, before retuning to the big screen as a publishing magnate in the romantic comedy, "Confessions of a Shopaholic" (2009). Doing a complete one-eighty, Lithgow had a season-long guest starring role on the hit series, "Dexter" (Showtime, 2006- ), playing the hard-to-capture Trinity serial killer, who d s battle with the titular avenger of murderous bad guys (Michael C. Hall). Lithgow's atypical performance earned him widespread recognition and a Golden Globe award win for Best Supporting Actor. The win helped propel him to further award recognition when he received an Emmy for Outstanding Guest Actor in a Drama Series in 2010.
This Is 40Oliver
The CampaignGlen Motch
Rise of the Planet of the ApesCharles Rodman
Confessions of a ShopaholicEdgar West
KinseyAlfred Seguine Kinsey
Orange CountyBud Brumder
Rugrats in Paris - The Movieof Jean-Claude
A Civil ActionJudge Skinner
Johnny SkidmarksSergeant Larry Skovik
Silent FallDr Harlinger
Princess CarabooProfessor Wilkinson
A Good Man in AfricaArthur Fanshawe
The Pelican BriefSmith Keen
Raising CainCarter/ Cain/ Josh/ Margo
At Play in the Fields of the LordLeslie Huben
RicochetEarl Talbot Blake
Memphis BelleColonel Bruce Derringer
Distant ThunderMark Lambert
Harry and the HendersonsGeorge Henderson
The Manhattan ProjectJohn Mathewson
The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai: Across the 8th DimensionLord John Whorfin
FootlooseReverend Shaw Moore
Terms of EndearmentSam Burns
I'm Dancing As Fast As I CanMr. Brunner
The World According to GarpRoberta Muldoon
Love, Cheat & StealPaul Harrington
The HomesmanReverend Dowd