Born and raised in Chicago, John Pankow is the sixth of nine children. His older brother, James C. Pankow, performs in the recording group Chicago.
John dabbled in drama during high school but didn't become serious about acting until he went to Northeastern Illinois University, where he majored in theatre arts.
He left the university in his junior year after he attended a performance of David Mamet's The American Buffalo at the St. Nicholas Theatre in Chicago. Inspired by the play, he enrolled in the theatre's two-year theatrical training program in order to concentrate solely on acting.
While visiting a friend in New York City, Pankow auditioned for, and won, a role in a PBS film entitled Life on the Mississippi.
He went on to perform in several off-Broadway productions including Scheherazade, Aristocrats, Italian American Reconciliation, Hunting Scenes, Ice Cream/Hot Fudge and the New York Shakespeare Festival's Two Gentlemen of Verona and Henry VIII.
He subsequently made it to Broadway with Serious Money, The Iceman Cometh, and as Mozart in Amadeus, one of his most notable roles to date.
Pankow has several motion pictures to his credit, including A Stranger Among Us, Mortal Thoughts, Talk Radio, To Live and Die in L.A. and The Secret to My Success.
On the television side, Pankow has guest starred on such series as Law and Order, Spenser: For Hire and Miami Vice. After several guest spots in the first season of Mad About You, he was signed as a cast regular.
In his spare time, he enjoys cooking for his wife and their daughter.