His first TV appearance was in a Burger King commercial where he had no lines.
With a talent as large as his girth, John Goodman proved himself as both a distinguished character actor, and an engaging leading man. Hailing from Affton, Missouri, a small unincorporated community in St. Louis County, Goodman went to Southwest Missouri State University on a football scholarship, but an injury compelled him to seek out a less strenuous major. He chose the university Drama Department, attending c l a s s e s with such aspiring actresses as Tess Harper and Kathleen Turner. Moving to New York in 1975, John supported himself by performing in children's and dinner theater, taking walk-on or bit parts in Off-Off Broadway, and appearing in television commercials to subsidize his income as a bouncer.
Goodman made his off-Broadway debut in a 1978 staging of A Midsummer Night's Dream, and, a year later, graduated to Broadway in Loose Ends (1979). His best received Broadway showing was as the drunken, brutish Pap in Big River, Roger Miller's 1985 musical adaptation of Mark Twain's novel, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. He has occasionally played out and out villains, or louts (ie. roles in The Big Easy in 1987 and Barton Fink in 1991), but his essential likeableness endeared him to audiences, even when his onscreen behavior was at its least sympathetic.
John contributed topnotch supporting appearances to such films as Everybody's All-American (1988), Sea of Love (1989), Stella (1989), and Arachnophobia (1990), playing a comical, macho exterminator. He starred in such films as King Ralph (1991), The Babe (1992, as Babe Ruth), Born Yesterday (1993), and The Flintstones (1994, as Fred Flintstone). Goodman did some of his best work in Matinee (1992), in which he starred as William Castle-esque horror flick entrepreneur Lawrence Woolsey, then topped himself in The Big Lebowski (1998), playing a quirky security store owner. He was seen the following year with Nicolas Cage and Ving Rhames in Martin Scorsese's Bringing Out the Dead as an ambulance driver.
Between 1988 and 1997, John appeared as blue-collar patriarch, Dan Conner, on the ground-breaking, hit ABC television comedy series, Roseanne, a role that earned him four Emmy nominations and a Golden Globe award. His additional TV credits included two 1995 made-for-cable movies: the title role in Kingfish: A Story of Huey P. Long, and Mitch in A Streetcar Named Desire, for which he earned another Emmy nomination. Announcing that the 1996-1997 season of Roseanne would be his last, Goodman limited himself to infrequent appearances on the series, his absences explained away as a by-product of a heart attack suffered by his character at the end of the previous season.
After making his 10th appearance on the NBC comedy series, Saturday Night Live (2000), John could be seen playing a red-faced bible salesman in director Joel Coen's award winning O Brother, Where Art Thou (2000), and participated in Garry Shandling's film debut, What Planet Are You From? (2000). He could be spotted playing an Oklahoma cop in The Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle (2000), while Coyote Ugly (2000) and Storytelling (2001) found Goodman stepping back into the role of over-protective father. Interestingly enough, he donned hippie-gear to play goth chick Leelee Sobieski's dad in 2001's My First Mister.
Though John's status as an amiable big guy was well established by the early 2000's, he didn't actually appear on-screen for two of his most beloved roles. In The Emperor's New Groove (2000), he lent his vocal talents for the part of Pacha, a poor farmer who taught a spoiled prince (David Spade) some valuable lessons about life, love, and the meaning of societal standing. Any film-going youngster will recognize Goodman's voice as Monsters, Inc.'s kind-hearted Sully, the furry blue monster who risked life and limb to return a little girl to her home. And, who other than John would have been more appropriate to voice the part of Baloo, The Jungle Book 2's (2003) freewheeling bear?
2001's ill-received One Night at McCool's features Goodman as one of three men lusting after Liv Tyler's character, while 2002's Dirty Deeds took him to Australia, where he played an American mafia-goon thoroughly ill-suited to the intricacies of culture down under. Though 2003's Masked and Anonymous was skewered by fans and critics alike, it did give him the chance to work with industry bigwigs Jessica Lange, Jeff Bridges, Penelope Cruz, and legendary singer/songwriter Bob Dylan.
John has made few allowances for putting his acting career on the back burner in recent years, dividing his time between the big screen (2004's Bobby Darin biopic, Beyond the Sea, also starring Oscar-winner, Kevin Spacey and Kate Bosworth, and Marilyn Hotchkiss Ballroom & Charm School in 2005, as Steve Mills); several episodes in such television series as Center of the Universe (2004-2005) and Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip (2006); and providing character voices in many animated family comedies: George Wolfsbottom in 2004's loveable big, red dog picture, Clifford's Really Big Movie; the children's television series, Father of the Pride (2004-2005) as Larry; reprising the role of Pancha in The Emperor's New Groove 2: Kronk's New Groove (2005); and as Sullivan Truck in the 2006 blockbuster, Cars, voicing along with Owen Wilson and one of Hollywood's greats, Paul Newman. He also performed as none other than Santa Claus, in the live-action, made-for-TV movie, The Year Without a Santa Claus (2006).
In 2007, Goodman wrapped up his role as Congressman Long, a Virginian who is not adverse to making a dollar or two on the sly in Evan Almighty (the 2007 sequel to Bruce Almighty) starring Steve Carell and Wanda Sykes, and completed the film, Drunkboat, both released in 2008, along with his action/drama, The Death Sentence, opposite Kevin Bacon. John's voice-over work as Layton M. Montgomery in the digitally-mastered animation Bee Movie, also starring the voices of Jerry Seinfeld, Matthew Broderick, and Renee Zellweger, came out that same year.
2008 also brought Madagasgar 2 with Goodman vocalizing Boom the rhinoceros, and John portraying Pops Racer in Speed Racer, an action film based on the 1960 Japanese animated series Mahha go go go, which chronicles the aspirations of a young race car driver.