Ratzenberger's work for Pixar, as well as his parts in Superman and The Empire Strikes Back, makes him the 6th most successful actor of all time, as measured by a total box office of over $3,000,000,000.
John also developed packaging alternatives made from biodegradable and non-toxic recycled paper as a safe alternative to Styrofoam "peanuts" and plastic bubble wrap.
Ratzenberger was born in Bridgeport, Connecticut, the son of Bertha (née Grohowski) and Deszo Alexander Ratzenberger. He attended St. Ann's School in Bridgeport and Sacred Heart University in Fairfield, Connecticut. In 1969 Ratzenberger was a tractor operator at the Woodstock Festival. He moved to London in 1971, living there for ten years.
John was a house framer living in London when he began his career in the performing arts. His first role was a Patron in The Ritz (1976). He appeared in minor roles in movies including Firefox; A Bridge Too Far; Superman as a missile controller; Superman II as the NASA control man; Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back (1980) as "Major Bren Derlin"; Motel Hell (1980) as a punk rocker; Outland (1981) as a doomed mine worker named Tarlow, and Gandhi (1982), playing as an American Lieutenant.
Ratzenberger is best known for playing mail carrier Cliff Clavin on the sitcom Cheers. He had read for the part of Norm Peterson, but after the audition, he could tell they weren't going to give him the part. Sensing an opportunity, he asked if they had written a bar know-it-all, which the producers decided was a great idea. Cliff became known for his outlandish stories of plausible half-truths, irrelevant trivia, and ignorant misinformation, and was known for being an overall pretentious blowhard. Cliff and Norm, the primary customer characters, became iconic bar buddies. Ratzenberger provided the voice for an animated version of Cliff on The Simpsons 6th season episode "Fear of Flying".
John has had a voice part in all of Pixar's feature films made to date. His roles include:
He also voiced the bathhouse's assistant manager, Ao-gaeru, in the English dub of Spirited Away, a film whose U.S. executive producer was Pixar's John Lasseter. Ratzenberger had the chance to make fun of his tenure at Pixar during the end credits of Cars, where his character, Mack, watches car-themed versions of Pixar movies ("Toy Car Story", "Monster Trucks, Inc.", and "A Bug's Life"), notes that all the characters Ratzenberger has played were excellent, until he realizes that they're the same actor, at which point he remarks, "They're just using the same actor over and over. What kind of cut-rate production is this?"
Ratzenberger's favorite of his Pixar characters was P.T. Flea, because "in real life I always get a kick out of those kinds of characters, people who just go into a rage for [no] explicable reason. He was always on edge. His blood pressure was always way over the top, and everything that he did was done in a panicked state. So it was a lot of fun to play him."
John produced and hosted “Made in America”, a show for the Travel Channel, which established a television precedent and led the way for a new series of shows including: “Dirty Jobs”; “Deadliest Catch”; “Ice Road Truckers”; and more. These shows celebrate the work ethic that built America to be its strength.
John co-authored We’ve Got it Made in America: A Common Man’s Salute to an Uncommon Country, which was published by Time Warner.
John is on the boards of Pepperdine and Sacred Heart Universities.