Delta Burke

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Delta Burke
Burke at the 1990 Emmy Awards
Born (1956-07-30) July 30, 1956 (age 67)
EducationColonial High School
Alma materLondon Academy of Music and Dramatic Art
  • Actress
  • producer
  • author
Years active1974–present
Known forDesigning Women
Filthy Rich
(m. 1989)

Delta Burke (born July 30, 1956)[1] is an American actress, producer, and author. From 1986 to 1991, she starred as Suzanne Sugarbaker in the CBS sitcom Designing Women, for which she was nominated for two Emmy Awards for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Comedy Series.

Burke's other television credits include Filthy Rich (1982–83), Delta (1992–93), Women of the House (1995) and DAG (2000–01).[2] She has produced and starred in made-for-TV movies, appeared in the film What Women Want (2000), and had a recurring guest role in the drama series Boston Legal (2006–07). She has also starred in the Broadway productions of Thoroughly Modern Millie (2003) and Steel Magnolias (2005).

Early life and Miss Florida[edit]

Burke was born on July 30, 1956, in Orlando, Florida, to a single mother, Jean.[3] Frederick Burke, an Orlando realtor, adopted her after marrying her mother. She has never met her biological father.[3] Burke has two younger siblings: a brother, Jonathan; and a sister, Jennifer.[4]

Burke graduated from Colonial High School in 1974, and won the senior superlative "Most Likely to Succeed."[5] In 1972, she won the Miss Flame crown from the Orlando Fire Department and went on to become State Miss Flame. In her senior year of high school, she won the Miss Florida title for 1974;[6] she was the youngest Miss Florida titleholder in pageant history.[7] Burke won a talent scholarship from the Miss America Organization, allowing her to attend a two-year study program at the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art.[8]


Early career[edit]

In 1974, as part of winning Miss Florida, Burke appeared on the ABC-TV show Bozo the Clown, filmed in Orlando, Florida. A 2001 episode of Lost Treasures of NFL Films presented film footage, taken by Lewis Bice, of her appearance as Miss Florida at the World Football League's World Bowl that same year.

In 1980, Burke portrayed the role of the second Bonnie Sue Chisholm in the CBS western miniseries, The Chisholms. Burke spent a year on Filthy Rich in 1982 playing the wily young widow, Kathleen Beck. After that, she played female football team owner Diane Barrow on 1st & Ten from 1984 to 1986.

Designing Women[edit]

In 1986, Burke was cast as Suzanne Sugarbaker in the CBS sitcom Designing Women; she left 1st and Ten in order to appear on the show. Designing Women was created by Linda Bloodworth-Thomason, who had previously cast Burke in her show Filthy Rich. The show was set at an interior design firm in Atlanta headed by four women, and Burke was one of the show's four female leads. (Dixie Carter, another of the leads, had been the lead actress on Filthy Rich.) The show struggled in the ratings, and was even briefly cancelled after its first year,[9] but in 1989 began to receive respectable ratings after being paired with the sitcom Murphy Brown. Burke became the show's breakout star,[10] and earned two consecutive nominations for the Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Comedy Series in 1990 and 1991; she was the only lead female cast member of the show to be nominated. (Alice Ghostley received a nomination for Supporting Actress in a Comedy in 1992, for her recurring role as Bernice Clifton, while Meshach Taylor received one in 1989 for Supporting Actor in a Comedy Series.)

In 1990, Burke publicly expressed dissatisfaction with the show on a televised interview with Barbara Walters and other media outlets. She argued on Entertainment Tonight that there was a labor dispute, and actors were often forced to work over 15 hours per day, with executives even blocking the doors to keep actors on set. She also said that Dixie Carter, who had once been her close friend and maid of honor at her wedding to Gerald McRaney, was not speaking to her as Carter sided with her bosses. At the end of the fifth season of Designing Women in 1991, Burke was fired from the show due to her contentious relations with Carter and the Thomasons.[2]


Burke was given her own vehicle with the sitcom Delta in 1992, in which she portrayed an aspiring country music singer. She dyed her hair blonde for the role.[11] When ratings plummeted, Burke became a brunette again. The series was cancelled after one season. In 1995, she and Linda Bloodworth Thomason reconciled their differences, and Burke returned as Suzanne Sugarbaker in the Designing Women spinoff Women of the House (1995), but that show also met an early demise.

It took more than a decade for Burke and Carter to reconcile, but they did so when Burke guest-starred in an episode of Family Law, on which Carter was a regular cast member.

Weight issues[edit]

Since the early 1990s, Burke's weight has been a subject of discussion in the tabloid press.[2][11] Her struggles with weight, depression, and eating disorders stretch back to her pageant days in the early 1970s. She became a much-parodied figure in the press due to the media's incessant obsession with her weight, including in a skit on Saturday Night Live, wherein Leon Phelps from The Ladies Man has a sexual fixation with her. In 1989, Burke asked Thomason to write an episode addressing her weight. The episode, "They Shoot Fat Women, Don't They?", had Suzanne Sugarbaker going to her 15-year high school reunion and having her feelings hurt after hearing disparaging remarks about her weight. Her performance on this episode is said to have led to her receiving her first Emmy nomination as Best Actress.[12]

Later career[edit]

Burke has been a leading actress in a number of television films, and had a supporting role in the Mel Gibson film What Women Want (2000).[11]

In the early 2000s, she co-starred with David Alan Grier on the sitcom DAG; she had lost much of her excess weight for the role after being diagnosed with diabetes.

Burke made her Broadway debut in September 2003, when she starred as Mrs. Meers in the musical Thoroughly Modern Millie.[13] She was the third actress to play the role in the production, after Harriet Harris and Terry Burrell. She played the role until February 2004, before being succeeded by her Designing Women co-star Dixie Carter.[14] Burke then played the role of Truvy in the original Broadway production of Steel Magnolias, playing the role for the shows entire four-month run from April 4 - July 31, 2005.[15]

She also played Bella Horowitz during a five-episode arc on Boston Legal as a former flame of William Shatner's character, Denny Crane, in season three.[16]

Burke appeared in a Hallmark Channel film, Bridal Fever, which aired February 2, 2008.[citation needed]

In March 2012, Burke was cast in the ABC comedy pilot Counter Culture.[17] However, after Burke fell on the set, production of the pilot was suspended and it was not picked up to series.

Personal life[edit]

Burke has been married to actor Gerald McRaney since May 28, 1989. They have no children together, although McRaney has adult children from his prior marriages. Burke and McRaney's primary residence is in Los Angeles, California; they also own a house in Telluride, Colorado, and one in New Orleans, Louisiana.[citation needed]

Burke has been diagnosed with type-2 diabetes.[18][19]

Burke is a supporter of gay rights,[20] and has worked with openly gay playwright and screenwriter Del Shores on many occasions, in Sordid Lives and Southern Baptist Sissies.[20] In 2006, Burke and openly gay Tennessean actor Leslie Jordan were uninvited from the Nashville talk show Talk of the Town after the show's managing director decided the subject matter to be discussed would offend the conservative viewers.[21] Burke first became supportive of gay people and gay rights through attending acting school in London and also through her sister, Jennifer, who is a lesbian.[20]

Burke is a designer and manager of the clothing company Delta Burke Design, headquartered in New York City.[11]

Burke and McRaney are also the owners of an antique store in Collins, Mississippi.

Burke has compulsive hoarding syndrome, for which she received therapy. "At one time I had 27 storage units. I don't have a big enough house!" she said. "My mom had it, it's my mother's fault. She saved the diaper I came home from the hospital in!"[22]


Film and Television
Year Title Role Notes
1978 Zuma Beach Terri Uncredited
1979 The Seekers Elizabeth Fletcher Kent TV miniseries
Charleston Stella Farrell TV movie
A Last Cry for Help Carol
1980 The Chisholms Bonnie Sue Chisholm TV miniseries
The Misadventures of Sheriff Lobo Diane Stone Episode: "The Haunting of Orly Manor"
1981 Nero Wolfe Jean Wellmann Episode: "Murder by the Book"
The Fall Guy Cantina Waitress Episode: "The Fall Guy"
1982 Rooster

Laura DeVega

TV movie
The Fall Guy Bryna Episode: "Mighty Myron"
1982–1983 Filthy Rich Kathleen Beck 15 episodes
1983 Johnny Blue Joanne Kruger TV pilot episode
Fantasy Island Gloria Ransom Episode: "The Devil Stick/Touch and Go"
Murder Me, Murder You Paula Corey TV movie
Gun Shy Clementine Episode: "Mail Order Mommy"
Remington Steele Nancy Stinson Dannon Episode: "Altared Steele"
1983–1984 The Love Boat Andrea Sheppard 3 episodes
1984 Automan Rachel Innis Episode: "Unreasonable Facsimile"
Mike Hammer Linda Sloane "Shots in the Dark"
T. J. Hooker Diana Polnoi Episode: "Grand Theft Auto"
1984–1988 1st & Ten Diane Barrow 6 episodes
1985 Who's the Boss? Diane Wilmington Episode: "Paint Your Wagon"
A Bunny's Tale Margie TV movie
1986–1991 Designing Women Suzanne Sugarbaker 120 episodes
1986 Hotel Sherry Episode: "Restless Nights"
1987 Simon & Simon Christy Keating Episode: "Desperately Seeking Dacody"
1988 Where the Hell's That Gold? Germany TV movie
1991 Saturday Night Live Herself/host Episode: "Delta Burke/Chris Isaak"
Love and Curses... And All That Jazz Desiree TV movie
1992 Day-O Grace Connors
1992–1993 Delta Delta Bishop 17 episodes
1994 The Mighty Jungle Viola (voice) 26 episodes
Diagnosis: Murder Maggie Donahue/Sister Michael Episode: "Sister Michael Wants You"
1995 Simon & Simon: In Trouble Again Mrs. Heiser TV movie
Women of the House Suzanne Sugarbaker 13 episodes
1996–2001 Touched by an Angel Julia Fitzgerald/Diana Winslow 3 episodes
1996 A Promise to Carolyn Debra TV movie
Maternal Instincts Tracy Horton
Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman Myrtle Beech Episode: "Swear to God, This Time We're Not Kidding"
Promised Land Julia Fitzgerald Episode: "Homecoming"
1997 Melanie Darrow Melanie Darrow TV movie
1998–1999 Any Day Now Teresa O'Brien Episodes: "I Feel Awful", "Music from My Life"
1999–2001 Popular Cherry Cherry 6 episodes
2000 Sordid Lives Noleta Nethercott
What Women Want Eve
2000–2001 DAG Judith Whitman 17 episodes
2001 Dangerous Child Sally Cambridge TV movie
2002 St. Sass Billie Lang
Family Law Marcie Dell Episode: "Ties That Bind"
Hansel & Gretel Stepmother
2003 Going For Broke Laura Bancroft TV movie
The Designing Women Reunion Herself TV special
Good Boy! Barbara Ann (voice)
2006 The Year Without a Santa Claus Mrs. Claus TV movie
2006–2007 Boston Legal Bella Horowitz 5 episodes
2007 The Wedding Bells Sheila Pontell Episode: "For Whom the Bells Toll"
2008 Bridal Fever Dahlia Marchand TV movie
2009 Drop Dead Diva Tessa Wells Episode: "Make Me a Match"
2012 Counter Culture Nonie TV pilot episode
2019 Dolly Parton's Heartstrings Ellie Holder Episode: "If I Had Wings"


  • Delta Style: Eve Wasn't a Size 6 and Neither Am I (1998, St. Martin's Press; ISBN 0-312-15454-2)


  1. ^ "July 30, 1956: Delta Burke, star of tabloids and television, born in Orlando". Florida History Network. Archived from the original on October 19, 2014. Retrieved February 9, 2023.
  2. ^ a b c Delta Burke- Biography, Yahoo!. Retrieved March 24, 2012.
  3. ^ a b "Blockbuster Mobile – Delta Burke (from All Movie Guide)". Archived from the original on March 15, 2012. Retrieved March 15, 2012.
  4. ^ "Delta Force: After a Self-Imposed Exile, a Bolder, Happier Burke Returns to Hollywood". Archived from the original on May 20, 2012. Retrieved June 21, 2012.
  5. ^ "CHS Alumni". Archived from the original on October 2, 2011. Retrieved March 15, 2012.
  6. ^ "Forever Miss Florida".
  7. ^ "July 30, 1956: Delta Burke, star of tabloids and television, born in Orlando".
  8. ^ Contemporary Theatre, Film, and Television. Vol. 7. Gale Research Company. 1989. p. 48.
  9. ^ Virginia Rohan (April 14, 2002). "'Once & Again' won't be back". North Jersey Media Group. Archived from the original on June 10, 2007. Retrieved July 13, 2007.
  11. ^ a b c d Delta Burke biography, AllRovi, Retrieved March 24, 2012.
  12. ^ IMDb: Emmy Awards: 1990
  13. ^ "Delta Burke". IBDB. Retrieved April 14, 2015.
  14. ^ "Dixie Carter". IBDB. Retrieved April 14, 2015.
  15. ^ "Steel Magnolias". IBDB. Retrieved April 14, 2015.
  16. ^ "They have designs on TV feuds". USA Today. November 13, 2006. Retrieved April 21, 2015.
  17. ^ Nellie Andreeva (March 23, 2012). "Delta Burke To Star In 'Counter Culture', 'How To Live' & 'Mistresses' Add To Casts". Deadline Hollywood. Retrieved March 24, 2012.
  18. ^ "Delta Burke is Battling Diabetes with the Lets Talk Campaign". Retrieved March 15, 2012.
  19. ^ "Caregiving: Delta Burke on Diabetes – Health News". redOrbit. March 16, 2007. Retrieved March 15, 2012.
  20. ^ a b c Gay southern comfort from Delta Burke
  21. ^ TMZ: Delta Burke, Will And Grace Actor "Too Gay For Nashville"...
  22. ^ "Delta Burke opens up about depression, hoarding –". February 28, 2008. Retrieved March 15, 2012.

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