LeVar Burton

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LeVar Burton
Levar Burton, Disney Social Media Moms Conference 2014, 2-crop.jpg
Burton in April 2014
Born Levardis Robert Martyn Burton, Jr.
(1957-02-16) February 16, 1957 (age 57)
Landstuhl, West Germany
Nationality American
Other names LeVar Burton
Occupation Actor, director, producer, author
Years active 1976–present
Spouse(s) Stephanie Cozart Burton
(m. 1992–present)
Children Ian Burton
Michaela Jean Burton
Awards See Awards

Levardis Robert Martyn Burton, Jr. (born February 16, 1957), professionally known as LeVar Burton, is an American actor, presenter, director, producer, and author.

Burton is best known for his roles as the young Kunta Kinte in the 1977 award-winning ABC television miniseries Roots, Lt. Commander Geordi La Forge in Star Trek: The Next Generation, and as the host and executive producer of the long-running PBS children's program Reading Rainbow.

Early life[edit]

Burton was born to American parents at the U.S. Army Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in West Germany. His mother, Erma Jean (née Christian), was a social worker, administrator, and educator. His father, Levardis Robert Martyn Burton, was a photographer for the U.S. Army Signal Corps, and at the time was stationed at Landstuhl.[1][2][3] Burton and his two sisters were raised by his mother in Sacramento, California.[4] Burton was raised Catholic and, at the age of thirteen, entered St. Pius X seminary in Galt, California to become a priest.[5]

He attended Christian Brothers High School and graduated in the class of 1974. He started having doubts about his religion, after reading books such as those written by Lao-Tzu, Nietzsche and Kierkegaard.[6] At seventeen, he left the seminary to enroll at the University of California with a drama scholarship.[7] He is a graduate of University of Southern California's School of Theatre.

Roots[edit]

LeVar Burton made his acting debut in 1977 when he played Kunta Kinte in the ABC award-winning drama series Roots, based on the novel by Alex Haley. Burton's audition for the role of Kinte was the first of his professional career.[8] As a result of his performance, he was nominated for the Emmy for Best Actor in a Drama Series. Burton reprised the role of Kunta Kinte in the 1988 television film Roots: The Gift. When asked about the societal impacts of Roots, Burton is quoted as saying, "It expanded the consciousness of people. Blacks and whites began to see each other as human beings, not as stereotypes. And if you throw a pebble into the pond, you're going to get ripples. I think the only constant is change, and it's always slow. Anything that happens overnight is lacking in foundation. Roots is part of a changing trend, and it's still being played out."[9]

Early career[edit]

Burton played a role as a visitor to Fantasy Island, was a participant in Battle of the Network Stars, a guest of the Muppet Show's televised premiere party for the release of The Muppet Movie, and a frequent guest on several game shows. In 1986, he appeared in the music video for the song "Word Up!" by the funk/R&B group Cameo.

Burton accepted an invitation to host Rebop, a multicultural series designed for young people ages 9–15, produced by WGBH for PBS.

Reading Rainbow[edit]

Burton was host and executive producer of Reading Rainbow starting in 1983 for PBS.[10] The series ran for 23 seasons, making it one of the longest running children's programs on the network. Furthermore, the series garnered over 200 broadcast awards over its run, including a Peabody Award and 26 Emmy Awards, 11 of which were in the "Outstanding Children's Series" category.[11][12]

Burton himself won 12 Emmy awards as host and producer of the show.[13] After Reading Rainbow went off the air in 2006, Burton and his business partner, Mark Wolfe acquired the global rights to the brand and formed RRKIDZ, a new media company for children. Reading Rainbow was reimagined as an all new app for the iPad in 2012 and was an immediate success, becoming the #1 Educational App within 36 hours. At RRKIDZ, Burton serves as Co-Founder and Curator-in-Chief, ensuring that the projects produced under the banner meet the high expectations and trust of the Reading Rainbow brand.[14]

Star Trek: The Next Generation[edit]

In 1986, Gene Roddenberry approached him with the role of the then Lieutenant Junior Grade Geordi La Forge in the Star Trek: The Next Generation television series. La Forge is blind, but is granted "sight" through the use of a prosthetic device called a VISOR, which is worn over his eyes. La Forge is the USS Enterprise's helmsman, and as of the show's second season, its Chief Engineer. At the time, Burton was considerably better known than Patrick Stewart in the United States, due to the fame he gained from starring in Roots and Reading Rainbow. The Associated Press stated that Burton's role was essentially the "new Spock."[15]

Burton also portrayed La Forge in the subsequent feature films based on Star Trek: The Next Generation, beginning with Star Trek Generations in 1994 through 2002's Star Trek Nemesis. Burton directed the season one episode of Star Trek: Voyager titled "Ex Post Facto" as well as season two episode of Star Trek: Voyager titled "Dreadnought." Burton also directed and appeared in the season five episode of Star Trek: Voyager titled "Timeless" and directed several episodes of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine and Star Trek: Enterprise.

Other appearances[edit]

Burton with social activist and former Second Lady Tipper Gore

On television, Burton has helped dramatize the last days of Jim Jones's suicide cult in Guyana, the life and times of Jesse Owens, and the life of the nine-year-old Booker T. Washington. He portrayed Martin Luther King, Jr. in the 2001 film Ali. He also portrayed Detroit Tiger Ron LeFlore in the television movie One in a Million, The Ron LeFlore Story.

In 1987, Burton played Dave Robinson, a journalist (sports writer), in the third season of Murder, She Wrote, episode 16 - "Death Takes a Dive", starring Angela Lansbury as Jessica Fletcher.

In 1992, a clip of Burton's Voice was sampled by DC Talk for the track "Time is..." on their album Free at Last. The sample is at the very end of the song, in which Burton can be heard saying: "Whoa, wait a minute."

He has also lent his voice to several animated projects including Kwame in the cartoon series Captain Planet and the Planeteers (1990–1993) and The New Adventures of Captain Planet (1993–1996), Family Guy, Batman: The Animated Series, and Gargoyles. Burton is on the audio version of The Watsons Go to Birmingham: 1963 by Christopher Paul Curtis. Burton has been cast as voice actor for Black Lightning in Superman/Batman: Public Enemies DVD.

Burton appeared several times as a celebrity guest on the Dick Clark–hosted Pyramid, from 1982 until 1988. Burton also was the strongest link in the special Star Trek episode of The Weakest Link. He defeated his final opponent Robert Picardo and won $167,500 for his charity, a record for the show at that time and the largest amount won in any Celebrity Edition of the show (it was later surpassed by a $189,500 win in a "Tournament of Losers" episode).

He has made appearances in such sitcoms as Becker.

Burton at the Schlow Centre Region Library, January 29, 2007

Burton is the host and executive producer of a documentary titled The Science of Peace, which was in production as of 2007. It investigates the science and technology aimed at enabling world peace, sometimes called peace science. The film explores some of the concepts of shared noetic consciousness, having been sponsored in part by the Institute of Noetic Sciences.[16]

He appeared in an April Fool's episode of Smosh pretending to have taken over the channel and making various edits at popular Smosh videos.[17]

He makes occasional appearances on This Week in Tech, where he is a self-proclaimed "nerd", and also participated in the Consumer Electronics Show 2010.[18]

In 2010, he made an appearance on Tim and Eric Awesome Show, Great Job! as the ghost of himself in the episode "Greene Machine".

In February 2011, Burton made an appearance as himself on NBC's Community in the episodes "Intermediate Documentary Filmmaking" and "Geothermal Escapism".

He has appeared as a fictionalized, humorous version of himself on The Big Bang Theory, first appearing in the episode "The Toast Derivation", in which he almost attends a party thrown by Sheldon (before swearing off Twitter), as well as in November 2012 in the episode "The Habitation Configuration", in which he appears on "Fun With Flags" in exchange for lunch and gas money.

In 2012, he had a recurring role as dean Paul Haley on the TNT series Perception. For the second season (2013), he became part of the regular cast.

In 2014, he had a guest appearance in an introduction section for the 200th Episode of Achievement Hunter's show, Achievement Hunter Weekly Update (AHWU).

Directing[edit]

Throughout the 1990s and early 2000s, Burton directed episodes for each of the various Star Trek series then in production. He has directed more Star Trek episodes than any other former regular cast member.[citation needed]

Burton is on the board of directors for the Directors Guild of America.

Burton has also directed episodes of Charmed, JAG, Las Vegas, and Soul Food: The Series, as well as the miniseries Miracle's Boys and the documentary The Tiger Woods Story.

His first theatrical film direction was 2003's Blizzard for which he received a "Best of Fest" award from the Chicago International Children's Film Festival, and a Genie Award nomination for his work on the film's theme song, "Center of My Heart."

He also directed the 1999 Disney Channel Original Movie Smart House starring Katey Sagal, Kevin Kilner and Jessica Steen.

His most recent directorial project Reach for Me, in which he also played a supporting role, was released in theaters in March 2008. The film was produced by longtime producer and exec Mark Wolfe, whom Burton officially teamed with in 2010, forming Burton/Wolfe Entertainment. BWE will produce motion pictures, television, web content and more. Says Burton, "We are looking to tell stories everywhere there will be a screen, BWE will be there. That is our plan."

Personal life[edit]

LeVar Burton married Stephanie Cozart Burton,[19] a professional make-up artist, in 1992. He had a daughter, Michaela Jean Burton (born in 1994), with his wife. He and his wife currently live in Sherman Oaks, California, with their one child.[7] LeVar Burton also has a son, Eian Burton, born in 1980 from a previous relationship.

Filmography[edit]

Film[edit]

Year Film Role Note
1976 Almos' a Man Dave Alternative title: Richard Wright's Almos' a Man
1977 Looking for Mr. Goodbar Cap Jackson
Billy: Portrait of a Street Kid Billy Peoples Ghetto Child
1978 One in a Million: The Ron LeFlore Story Ron Leflore The Man of Passion
Battered Andrew Sinclair
1979 Dummy Donald Lang
1980 Guyana Tragedy: The Story of Jim Jones Richard Jefferson
The Hunter Tommy Price
1981 The Acorn People Rodney
Grambling's White Tiger Charles 'Tank' Smith
1983 Emergency Room Ray Walden
1984 The Jesse Owens Story Professor Preston
Booker Davis
1985 And the Children Shall Lead Glenn Scott Alternative title: PBS Wonderworks: And The Children Shall Lead
The Midnight Hour Vinnie Davis Alternative title: In The Midnight Hour
1986 The Supernaturals Pvt. Michael Osgood
Liberty Robert Johnson
1987 A Special Friendship Ben Summer
1988 Roots: The Gift Kunta Kinte Alternative title: A Roots Christmas: Kunta Kinte's Gift
1993 Firestorm: 72 Hours In Oakland Fire Chief J. Alan Mathers Alternative title: Firestorm: A Catastrophe In Oakland
1994 Parallel Lives Dr. Franklin Carter
Star Trek Generations Lt. Cmdr. Geordi La Forge Alternative title: Star Trek 7: Generations
1996 Yesterday's Target Winstrom
Star Trek: First Contact Lt. Cmdr. Geordi La Forge Alternative title: Star Trek 8: First Contact
1998 Star Trek: Insurrection Lt. Cmdr. Geordi La Forge Alternative title: Star Trek 9: Insurrection
1999 Our Friend, Martin Martin, Age 26 (voice)
2000 Dancing in September Himself
2001 Ali Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
2002 Star Trek: Nemesis Lt. Cmdr. Geordi La Forge Alternative title: Star Trek 10: Nemesis
2003 Blizzard Night Watchman Elf Directed by Burton
2008 Reach For Me Nathaniel
2009 Taken In Broad Daylight Mike Timbrook
Superman/Batman Public Enemies Jefferson Pierce/Black Lightning (voice)
2011 And They're Off Himself
2012 Rise of the Zombies Dr. Dan Halpern television movie

Television[edit]

Burton with Brent Spiner and William Shatner in July 2010
Television
Year Title Role Notes
1976-1979 Rebop Host
1977 Roots Kunta Kinte TV Miniseries
1982 Trapper John, M.D. Luther Peacock "A Piece of the Action"
1983 Fantasy Island Edward Ross, Jr. "Edward/The Extraordinary Miss Jones"
1983–2006 Reading Rainbow Host 155 episodes
1984 The Love Boat Darnell "Love is Blind"
1987 Murder, She Wrote Reporter Dave Robinson "Death Take a Dive"
1987 Houston Knights Jason Evans "Bad Girl"
1987-1994 Star Trek: The Next Generation Geordi La Forge 178 episodes
1990-1996 Captain Planet and the Planeteers Kwame (voice) 113 episodes
1993 Batman the Animated Series Hayden Sloane/Hatter Henchman (voice) "The Worry Men"
1995 Christy Daniel Scott 7 episodes
1995 Deadly Games Mr. Metcalf "The Boss"
1995 Happily Ever After: Fairy Tales for Every Child Voice "The Frog Prince"
1996 Gargoyles Anansi "Mark of the Panther"
1997 Pinky and the Brain Murray "The Real Life"
1998 Star Trek: Voyager Captain Geordi LaForge "Timeless"
1998 Mister Rogers' Neighborhood Himself "Giving and Receiving"
2000 Becker Mr. Haller "Beckerethics"
2003 Boomtown Marvin Lloyd "The Hole-in-the-Wall Gang"
2005
& 2009
Family Guy Vern (voice)
& himself (voice)
"Petarded"
& "Not All Dogs Go to Heaven"
2009 The Super Hero Squad Show War Machine (voice) "Tales of Suspense"
2010 Tim and Eric Awesome Show, Great Job! Ghost of LeVar Burton "Greene Machine"
2010 The Jensen Project Kendrick James TV film (brokered programming from Procter & Gamble/Wal-Mart)[20]
2011 & 2014 Community Himself "Intermediate Documentary Filmmaking"
&"Geothermal Escapism"
2011
& 2012
The Big Bang Theory Himself "The Toast Derivation"
& "The Habitation Configuration"
2012 Face Off Himself "Alien Interpreters"
2012–present Transformers: Rescue Bots voice of Doc Greene 26 episodes
2012 Perception Paul Haley 13 episodes
2013 Adventure Time Bubble "BMO Lost"
2013 The Colbert Report Himself "1192"

Director[edit]

Year Work Note
1987–1994 Star Trek: The Next Generation 2 episodes
1993–1999 Star Trek: Deep Space Nine 10 episodes
1995–2001 Star Trek: Voyager 8 episodes
1998 The Tiger Woods Story Alternative title: Son, Hero, and Champion
1998–2006 Charmed 3 episodes
1999 Smart House
2000–2004 Soul Food 2 episodes
2001–2005 Star Trek: Enterprise 9 episodes
2003 Blizzard
JAG 1 episode
2005 Miracle's Boys 1 episode
2006 Las Vegas 1 episode
2008 Reach For Me

Awards[edit]

Nominations[edit]

  • 1977 Emmy — Outstanding Lead Actor for a Single Performance in a Drama or Comedy Series — Roots (Part 1, "Kunta Kinte")
  • 1998, 2001, 2005 Image Awards variously for Outstanding Performer in a Children's Series and Outstanding Youth or Children's Series/Special — ' Reading Rainbow ' (both as Self and as Executive Producer)
  • 1991, 1992, 1994, 1995, 1999 Daytime Emmy — Outstanding Children's Series — Reading Rainbow (Executive Producer)
  • 1985, 1986, 1987, 1988, 1989, 1990, 1991, 1992, 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 1997, 1998, 1999, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007 - Daytime Emmy — Outstanding Performer in a Children's Series — Reading Rainbow (Self)
  • 2004 Genie Award — Best Achievement in Music-Original Song — Blizzard (Co-composer "Center of My Heart")
  • 2006 Black Reel Award — Best Director-Television — Miracle's Boys

Wins[edit]

  • 1990 Star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame at 7030 Hollywood Blvd. for television achievement
  • 1992 Peabody AwardReading Rainbow (as executive producer of episode, "The Wall")
  • 1994, 1996, 1999, 2002, 2003 Image Awardvariously for Outstanding Performer in a Children's Series and Outstanding Youth or Children's Series/Special — ' Reading Rainbow ' (both as Self and as Executive Producer)
  • 2000 Grammy Award for Best Spoken Word Album - The Autobiography of Martin Luther King, Jr.
  • 1990, 1993, 1996, 1997, 1998, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2005, 2007 Daytime Emmy — Outstanding Children's Series — Reading Rainbow (Executive Producer)
  • 2001, 2002 Daytime Emmy — Outstanding Performer in a Children's Series — Reading Rainbow (Self)
  • 2003 Television Critics Association Award — Outstanding Achievement in Children's Programming — Reading Rainbow (Executive Producer)
  • 2004 Chicago International Children's Film Festival — Best of Fest — Blizzard (Director)

Books[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ "LeVar Burton Biography (1957-)". Filmreference.com. Retrieved 2011-02-26. 
  2. ^ "NewsLibrary.com - newspaper archive, clipping service - newspapers and other news sources". 1993-05-18. 
  3. ^ "Pennsylvania: Burton speaks of 'Roots,' other strong influences". Herald-mail.com. Retrieved 2011-02-26. 
  4. ^ Lee, Elyssa (February–March 2012). "LeVar Burton Q&A". Sactown magazine. Retrieved July 20, 2013. 
    • a 'You live in LA now, but Sacramento comes up regularly in your tweets.' "-It's my hometown, my home base. It's where I grew up. I was born in Landstuhl, Germany in '57, came to Sacramento in '59—we lived in Glen Elder—then went back to [Germany] in '64, then [returned to Sacramento] in '66. [Burton's father was a photographer in the Army.] My parents split up during that second tour of duty when I was in the third or fourth grade. So my mom, my sisters and I settled in West Sacramento, in Broderick. Then we moved to South Sacramento when I was in the sixth grade—St. Anne's Elementary." — ¶ 15.
  5. ^ "LeVar Burton At Book-Signing: Actor, Now Author, Returns To - Sacramento Observer | HighBeam Research - FREE trial". Highbeam.com. 1997-02-19. Retrieved 2011-02-26. 
  6. ^ "Metacritic.com". Metacritic.com. Retrieved 2014-01-08. 
  7. ^ a b "Bio.com". Biography.com. 1957-02-16. Retrieved 2014-01-08. 
  8. ^ "Burton, LeVar. Twitter status update, 11:28 PM (PST) 27 August 2010". Twitter.com. 2010-08-27. Retrieved 2011-02-26. 
  9. ^ Beale, Lewis (1987-01-29). "Sun Sentinel Ft. Lauderdale January 29, 1987". Pqasb.pqarchiver.com. Retrieved 2011-02-26. 
  10. ^ Jones, Fred (1999-05-19). "Learning to Read the Rainbow". Tacoma Herald. 
  11. ^ "Reading Rainbow Awards". IMDb.com. Retrieved 16 June 2013. 
  12. ^ "About Us - Reading Rainbow". Retrieved 16 June 2013. 
  13. ^ "LeVar Burton Awards". IMDb.com. Retrieved 16 June 2013. 
  14. ^ "Reading Rainbow Team". Retrieved 16 June 2013. 
  15. ^ "Toledo Blade August 2, 1987". News.google.com. 1987-08-02. Retrieved 2011-02-26. 
  16. ^ "Science of Peace". scienceofpeace.com. 
  17. ^ "LeVar Burton Buys Smosh (April Fools)". YouTube. Retrieved 2011-02-26. 
  18. ^ "LeVar Burton at CES 2010.". 
  19. ^ "Matinee Classics". Matinee Classics. 1957-02-16. Retrieved 2014-01-08. 
  20. ^ "NBC sets 'Jensen' with P&G, Wal-Mart". The Hollywood Reporter. October 13, 2010. Retrieved 2012-02-19. 

Further reading[edit]

  • Nishikawa, Kinohi. "LeVar Burton." The Greenwood Encyclopedia of African American Literature. Ed. Hans Ostrom and J. David Macey, Jr. 5 vols. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 2005. 219.

External links[edit]