Born into a theatrical family, Lithgow is the son of a onetime head of Princeton's McCarter Theater who moved his family to Ohio to produce Shakespeare festivals. Young Lithgow made his stage debut at age six in Henry VI, Part 3. A Harvard graduate, he won a Fulbright Scholarship and attended the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art. While in England, he studied with both the Royal Shakespeare Company and the Royal Court Theater before settling in New York to pursue a stage career.
After winning both the Tony and Drama Desk Awards for his Broadway debut in The Changing Room, he performed in a different Broadway play each season from 1973-82. They included the productions My Fat Friend, Comedians, A Memory of Two Mondays, Secret Service, Anna Christie, Once in a Lifetime, Spokesong, Division Street, Beyond Therapy and his one-man-show Kaufman at Large.
Yet, it was his 1982 Academy Award-nominated portrayal in The World According to Garp that first brought Lithgow national attention. He received his second Academy Award nomination the following year for his role as Debra Winger's lover in Terms of Endearment. Additional starring film credits include his panic-stricken airline passenger in Twilight Zone: The Movie, Memphis Belle, Footloose, Buckaroo Banzai, All That Jazz, Brian DePalma's Blow Out and Raising Cain, and Harry and the Hendersons.
Some of his film projects include Bruce Beresford's A Good Man in Africa and Silent Fall, Princess Caraboo with Steven Rea and Kevin Kline, Cliffhanger and The Pelican Brief.
Returning to the stage throughout his career, Lithgow was nominated for Tony and Drama Desk Awards in 1985 for his performance in Requiem for a Heavyweight and earned a third Tony Award nomination for M. Butterfly in 1988.
Lithgow earned an Emmy Award nomination for his performance in the 1983 highly-charged television movie The Day After. He won an Emmy Award in 1987 for his portrayal in an episode of Steven Spielberg's Amazing Stories and was nominated for another Emmy that year for Hallmark Hall of Fame's The Resting Place. He also received a Cable Ace Award nomination for his work in the 1989 HBO telefilm Traveling Man.
He recently won an Emmy for Lead Actor in a Comedy Series as the High Commander Dick Solomon in 3rd Rock from the Sun.
Additional television credits include the live broadcast of The Oldest Living Graduate with Henry Fonda, PBS' Big Blond with Sally Kellerman, Baby Girl Scott, The Last Elephant with Isabella Rossellini, The Boys starring John and James Woods, the Emmy Award-nominated miniseries World War II: When Lions Roared and Showtime's The Wrong Man. He was recently in the CBS movie-of-the-week My Brother's Keeper, for which he earned an Emmy Award nomination as well as Hallmark Hall of Fame's Redwood Curtain.
Addressing a completely new audience in John Lithgow's Kid-Size Concert, a music video of children's classics and original tunes, Lithgow showcases his talents as an actor, singer, songwriter and co-producer.