He attended and graduated from Princeton High School in Princeton, New Jersey.
He attended Harvard College and graduated with a Bachelor's degree magna cum laude in history and literature (1967). He lived in Adams House as an undergraduate. Lithgow later served on Harvard's Board of Overseers.
He studied at London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art.
He was named a Fulbright scholar.
He is the parent of Ian Lithgow with Jean Taynton, and Phoebe Lithgow and Nathan Lithgow with Mary Yeager.
He hosted the Welcoming Reception for UCLA's new Chancellor Carnesale.
He claims that his most difficult performance was in Twilight Zone: The Movie (1983) because he had to portray fear of the monster, although he could not really see it.
He was the original voice of Hades in Disney's Hercules (1997) and recorded all the dialogue, but his performance was then replaced by the performance of James Woods.
He was considered for the role of Hannibal Lecter in The Silence of the Lambs (1991), which went to Anthony Hopkins.
In May 2002, he won both the Tony Award and Drama Desk Award as Best Actor in a Broadway musical for his performance in "Sweet Smell of Success".
His wife Mary Yeager is an economics professor at the University of California, Los Angeles.
His father ran a Shakespearian Acting company in the 1950s which included David Carradine.
His parents are Sarah Jane Price (born 1917) and theater director/producer Arthur Lithgow (1915-2004).
Biography in: "Contemporary Authors". Volume 217, pg. 219-223. Farmington Hills, MI: Gale, 2004.
He was considered for the role of Dr. Emmett "Doc" Brown in Back to the Future (1985), which went to Christopher Lloyd.
He has provided the voice of Yoda in the NPR radio dramatizations of "The Empire Strikes Back" (1983) and "Return of the Jedi" (1996).
He has won two Tony Awards: in 1973, as Best Supporting or Featured Actor (Dramatic) for David Storey's "The Changing Room"; and in 2002, as Best Actor (Musical) for "Sweet Smell of Success." He has also been nominated on three occasions for Tonys -- two for Best Actor (Play): for "Requiem for a Heavyweight" (1985) and "M. Butterfly." (1988), and once for Best Actor (Musical): for "Dirty Rotten Scoundrels" (2005).
He was called in to replace another actor in Terms of Endearment (1983), and his role was filmed in three days during a break from filming Footloose (1984).
Three of his non-film roles have been based on movies involving Frank Oz and Ian McDiarmid. Most of Oz's and McDiarmid's collaborations are the Star Wars films, in which they play Yoda and Darth Sidious, respectively. Lithgow played Yoda on the radio. Oz also directed McDiarmid in Dirty Rotten Scoundrels (1988). Lithgow appeared in the stage musical.
He is a registered pastor of Rose Ministries and has officiated the wedding of his goddaughter.
He is a member of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences (AMPAS).
Even though his parents were both actors, he was inspired to get into acting by Peter Sellers.
His ancestry includes Welsh (from his maternal grandfather), English, as well as French, Scots-Irish (Northern Irish), and Scottish. His father was born in Puerto Plata, Dominican Republic, where the white American Lithgow family had lived for a few generations.
He was awarded a Star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame at 6666 Hollywood Boulevard in Hollywood, California on May 2, 2001.
Despite being known for playing characters who are often pompous and unlikable or outright villainous, he has been described by many of his co-stars as an extremely kind and friendly man and a pleasure to work with.
He has two grandchildren through his son, Ian Lithgow.
He has said that Chaplin's Modern Times (1936) is his favorite film.
He is a celebrity spokesperson for Campbell Select soups since 2006.
He is an accomplished guitar player.
He lives in Los Angeles, California.
The role of Frasier Craine (first on Cheers then the spin-off) was written with Lithgow in mind. He's said years later, "Kelsey [Grammer] did a fine job!".
He was considered for the role of The Joker in Batman (1989).
He was awarded the 1989 Los Angeles Drama Critics Circle Award for Distinguished Achievement, Lead Performance, "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?," at Center Theatre Group/Ahmanson Theatre production at the James A. Doolittle Theatre (University of California) in Los Angeles, California.
He was awarded the 1973 Antoinette Perry (Tony) Award for Best Featured Actor in a Play for "The Changing Room" on Broadway in New York City.
For his Broadway debut, Lithgow appeared in David Storey's "The Changing Room" on March 7, 1973, and won the Tony Award 18 days later (March 25) setting a record for a Broadway acting debut.
As a youth, John and his siblings were often babysat by Coretta Scott (later Coretta Scott King) in Yellow Springs, Ohio.
He is just 12 years older than Lori Singer, who played his daughter in Footloose (1984).
In common with the veteran English character actor Robert Hardy, he has played both American president Franklin D. Roosevelt and British Prime Minister Winston Churchill on screen.
Friends with Alfred Molina.