John Lithgow Says ‘3rd Rock from the Sun’ Exploded Everybody’s Expectations’ of Him

The right TV show and an actor’s image can change in an instant. He plays Winston Churchill in Netflix’s The Crown and a killer in Dexter but it’s John Lithgow’s role as Dr. Dick Solomon, an alien inhabiting the body of a human while living on Earth, that changed people’s ideas about him. Keep reading to learn more about the 74-year-old’s time on the award-winning series.

‘3rd Rock from the Sun’ premieres in 1996

John Lithgow, Elaine Stritch, and Jane Curtin sitting at a table in a scene from '3rd Rock from the Sun'
John Lithgow, Elaine Stritch, and Jane Curtin in 3rd Rock from the Sun | Frank Carroll/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank

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Running for six seasons and 139 episodes, 3rd Rock from the Sun follows Dick (Lithgow) and other aliens as they adjust to life on Earth. Besides Lithgow’s character, there’s Sally Solomon (Kristen Johnston), Harry Solomon (French Stuart), and Tommy Solomon (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) among others.

Despite bouncing to different networks and changing time slots, 3rd Rock from the Sun manages to build a large following. The show stays on the air for five years until it comes to an end in May 2001 after six seasons.  

John Lithgow says ‘3rd Rock from the Sun’ ‘exploded’ his career

Speaking with Entertainment Weekly in June 2020, the two-time Oscar nominee discussed his most famous roles throughout his career. He explained how showcasing his comedy chops in 3rd Rock from the Sun demonstrated a lesser-seen side of acting skills. Up to this point in his career, Lithgow had starred in movies such as Terms of Endearment and The World According to Garp in which he portrayed much more serious characters.  

“It exploded my career,” he told the outlet of starring in 3rd Rock from the Sun. “It exploded everybody’s expectations of me. Nobody had seen me do that nonsense before, except for if they happened to remember the three times that I hosted Saturday Night Live way back in the ’80s.”

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He continued, saying the show’s creators wrote the role of Dr. Dick Solomon specifically for him. 

“Bonnie and Terry Turner, who created the series, had been staff writers on SNL when I did it, and we became very good friends. They created a character, Dick Solomon, for me and only me,” Lithgow said. “If I hadn’t done it, they wouldn’t have done it.” 

“They always said they needed an actor who was a combination of Bugs Bunny and Errol Flynn — and I was the only one they could think of,” he added. 

John Lithgow wins awards for ‘3rd Rock from the Sun’

Shattering people’s expectations of him in the sitcom led to recognition. According to IMDb, Lithgow earned a Golden Globe in 1997 for his role in 3rd Rock from the Sun. And by the series came to an end he’d won three Emmy Awards. What’s more, he earned two Screen Actors Guild Awards for the part. One in 1997 and another in 1998. 

Jane Curtin and John Lithgow in '3rd Rock from the Sun' Season 3
Jane Curtin and John Lithgow in 3rd Rock from the Sun Season 3 | Paul Drinkwater/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank

Today, watch Lithgow star in the HBO miniseries, Perry Mason, alongside Matthew Rhys (Brothers & Sisters, The Americans). And watch 3rd Rock from the Sun for free on the streaming service, Tubi.

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