LeVar Burton


Topics

Actor, Entrepreneurism


Full Bio


Two years into college, LeVar Burton was chosen for the lead role in the TV miniseries Roots, which launched his career. In 1983, he became the host of PBS's Reading Rainbow, a show aimed at teaching young children to read. The series won five Emmys in its more than 20 years on the air. Burton became a household name for science fiction fans in 1987 as a co-star on Star Trek: The Next Generation.

Actor Levardis Robert Martyn Burton, Jr. was born on February 16, 1957, in Landstuhl, West Germany. Burton's father, Levardis, Sr. worked as a photographer for the U.S. Army and his mother, Erma, was an English teacher. Burton's parents divorced when he was 3, and he and his two siblings relocated to Sacramento, California, with their mother.

As a teacher, Erma instilled in her children the importance of a good education and a love of reading. Also a practicing Catholic, LeVar's mother sent him and his sisters to parochial school in order to provide them with religious instruction.

Strongly influenced by his religious background, Burton entered the Catholic seminary at the age of 13 with the intention of becoming a priest. But after reading the works of philosphers such as Nietzsche and Kierkegaard, Burton had his doubts about the dogma. He left the seminary at the age of 17 and headed to the University of California on a drama scholarship instead.

Two years into his education at the University of California, Burton auditioned for a role in writer Alex Haley's television show, Roots, which told the story of seven generations of Haley's family. Burton's life was forever changed when he was chosen for the lead role as slave Kunta Kinte. When Roots hit the TV airwaves in 1977, it broke all viewing records, and Burton became a poster boy for the discussion of race relations.

In addition to his performance in Roots, Burton appeared in several TV movies, including the Emmy-nominated Dummy (1979) and Guyana Tragedy: The Story of Jim Jones (1980). But his big reinvention as an actor would come in 1983, when he became the host of the Public Broadcasting System's Reading Rainbow, a show aimed at teaching young children to read.

The series won five Emmys in its more than 20 years on the air, and Burton—who eventually became a contributing producer to the show in 1987—earned high marks from critics for his warm delivery. In 2005, he earned an N.A.A.C.P. award for his contributions to the show.

Already a household name to thousands of grade-school children, Burton became a household name for science fiction fans in 1987 as a co-star on Gene Roddenberry's Star Trek: The Next Generation, playing the blind chief engineer, Lieutenant Commander Geordi LeForge. In 1993, he got his chance to direct an episode of the show, in which he cast Dr. Mae C. Jemison, the first real-life African-American female astronaut, as a guest star.

Since the cancellation of Star Trek in 1994, Burton has been directing film and television projects.

Burton currently lives in Sherman Oaks, California, with his wife, make-up artist Stephanie Cozart Burton, and his two children.

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