Itzhak Perlman was born in Tel Aviv on August 31, 1945. At the age of four he was stricken with polio, which caused permanent paralysis of his legs, leaving him to rely on crutches and braces for the rest of his life. Despite his handicap, young Itzhak began showing talent on the violin, and his father Chaim, a barber, quickly recognized his son's unusual abilities and arranged for lessons for him at the Music Academy of Tel Aviv. Soon Itzhak began giving concerts and attracting attention throughout Israel. American television talent agent Ed Sullivan learned of Perlman's abilities and brought the 13-year-old to New York for a 1959 appearance on his Caravan of Stars show.
Perlman and his parents subsequently took up residency in New York City, where the young virtuoso continued to attract attention. He enrolled at the Juilliard School of Music, studying with Ivan Galamian and Dorothy DeLay. He made his official debut in 1963 at Carnegie Hall with a performance of the F sharp minor Wieniawski Concerto and went on to win the Leventritt Competition, one of whose prizes was an appearance with the New York Philharmonic, then led by Leonard Bernstein. After these triumphs Perlman was taken on by impresario Sol Hurok and given a heavy schedule of concerts in the United States, Europe, Asia, and Israel over the coming years. He also began making recordings with RCA and would eventually sign contracts with EMI, Sony, Teldec, and others. Over the next three decades, his recordings would include the concertos of Beethoven, Brahms, Sibelius, Mendelssohn, Berg, the two by Prokofiev, Tchaikovsky's Piano Trio, Dvorak's Sonatina, Paganini's Caprices, and many others. In 1966, Perlman married Toby Friedlander. The couple would reside in the Upper West Side of Manhattan, where they would raise five children. Perlman had begun teaching as well, and in 1975 took a faculty post at Brooklyn College.
Perlman's fame grew rapidly in the 1970s and he began appearing regularly on television programs, like the children's show Sesame Street, The Tonight Show, David Letterman, and various specials on the PBS network. He also became a frequent performer at White House events, especially during the Reagan administration. In 1986, President Reagan awarded him a Medal of Liberty, an award recognizing the contributions of foreign-born Americans. By 1990 Perlman had performed with virtually every major orchestra in the world and with almost every important conductor. He also signed a new contract that year with EMI, the label for whom he has made the most recordings.
In 1994, Perlman hosted a program on the PBS network called the Three Tenors, Encore!, that featured the singing of Luciano Pavarotti, Plácido Domingo, and José Carreras. He also made a television special in 1995 for the PBS Great Performances series entitled In the Fiddler's House. Perlman has recently taken up conducting, his concerts including a Tanglewood Festival performance in 2000 with the Boston Symphony Orchestra that included critically successful readings of the Mozart Symphony No. 29 and the Brahms Symphony No. 4.
In the twenty-first century, Perlman's career continues to yield him triumph after triumph, placing him among this age's top five or six musicians in the classical realm.