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John Arthur Lithgow was born on October 19, 1945, in Rochester, New York. He graduated from Harvard College in 1967 with a bachelor's degree in history and literature. He then won a Fulbright Scholarship to study acting at the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art.
Lithgow made his Broadway debut in 1973 in The Changing Room by David Storey, winning his first Tony Award for Best Featured Actor in a Play that same year. Over the course of his career on stage, Lithgow won his second Tony Award for Best Actor in a Musical for Sweet Smell of Success in 2002 and picked up Tony Award nominations for Requiem for a Heavyweight (1985), M. Butterfly (1988), Dirty Rotten Scoundrels (2005), and The Columnist (2012). His other Broadway credits include A Delicate Balance (2014-15), All My Sons (2008-9), The Retreat From Moscow (2003-4), The Front Page (1986-7), Beyond Therapy (1982), Division Street (1980), Bedroom Farce (1979), Spokesong (1979), Once in a Lifetime (1978), Anna Christie (1977), Comedians (1976-7), Secret Service (1976), A Memory of Two Mondays / 27 Wagons Full of Cotton (1976), Trelawney of the "Wells" (1975), and My Fat Friend (1974). He also directed the 1976 revival of Boy Meets Girl. Lithgow returned to Broadway with a solo show entitled Stories By Heart from December 21, 2017 through March 4, 2018, courtesy of Roundabout Theatre Company.
Lithgow has also made several appearances off Broadway over his career, including his Off-Broadway debut in The Public Theater's Shakespeare in the Park production of Hamlet in 1975. He later returned to Shakespeare in the Park to take on the title role of King Lear in 2014. Other Off-Broadway highlights include the Public production of Salt Lake City Skyline in 1980 and the Second Stage Theater production of Mr. & Mrs. Fitch in 2010. He also starred as George S. Kaufman and directed Kaufman at Large in 1981.
Lithgow is also internationally known for his work in TV and film, most notably earning Academy Award nominations for Terms of Endearment (1984) and The World According to Garp (1983). For his TV work, he has received Golden Globe Awards for Dexter (2010) and 3rd Rock from the Sun (1997), as well as Emmy Awards for The Crown (2017), Dexter (2010), 3rd Rock from the Sun (1996, 1997, and 1999), and Amazing Stories (1986). Other notable screen credits include Trial & Error, Interstellar, How I Met Your Mother, Rise of the Planet of the Apes, Twenty Good Years, Dreamgirls, Shrek, My Brother's Keeper, The Pelican Brief, Cliffhanger, Harry and the Hendersons, Santa Claus: The Movie, Footloose, Resting Place, and The Day After, among many others.
Lithgow's returned to Broadway in the role of Bill in Lucas Hnath's play Hillary and Clinton at the Golden Theatre. The show began performances on March 16, 2019, and ran through June 23, 2019.