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LeVar Burton at GalaxyCon Richmond in 2020
Levardis Robert Martyn Burton Jr.
February 16, 1957
|Alma mater||University of Southern California|
|Occupation||Actor, presenter, director, author|
Stephanie Cozart Burton
Levardis Robert Martyn Burton Jr. (born February 16, 1957) is an American actor, presenter, director, and author. He is best known for his role as Lt. Commander Geordi La Forge in Star Trek: The Next Generation. His first major part was the role of a young Kunta Kinte in the 1977 ABC television miniseries Roots, a role he reprised in the 1988 television film Roots: The Gift. In 1983 he became the host of the long-running PBS children's series Reading Rainbow. He has also directed a number of television episodes for various iterations of Star Trek, among other programs.
Levardis Robert Martyn Burton Jr. was born at the U.S. Army Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in West Germany. His mother, Erma Gene (née Christian), was a social worker, administrator, and educator. His father and namesake, Levardis Robert Martyn Burton Sr., was a photographer for the U.S. Army Signal Corps at the time he was stationed at Landstuhl. Burton and his two sisters were raised by his mother in Sacramento, California.
Burton was raised Roman Catholic and, at the age of 13, entered St. Pius X Minor Seminary in Galt, California, to become a priest. While in seminary, he read works by the philosophers Laozi, Friedrich Nietzsche, and Søren Kierkegaard, which caused him to question whether Catholicism is the only true religion. At seventeen, Burton graduated with the class of 1974 and enrolled at the University of Southern California with a drama scholarship. While at the University of Southern California, Burton was a member of the Sigma Alpha Mu fraternity. He graduated from the University of Southern California's School of Theatre.
Burton made his acting debut in 1976 with Almos' a Man, a film based on the Richard Wright short story "The Man Who Was Almost a Man," in which he stars alongside Madge Sinclair. His breakthrough role was as the young Kunta Kinte in the ABC miniseries Roots (1977), based on the novel of the same name by Alex Haley. Burton has described his first day playing Kunta as the start of his professional career. As a result of his performance, he was nominated for an Emmy in the Outstanding Lead Actor for a Single Appearance in a Drama or Comedy Series category. Burton reprised the role of Kunta Kinte in the 1988 television film Roots: The Gift. When asked about the societal influence 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."
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 was the host and executive producer of Reading Rainbow starting in 1983 for PBS. The series ran for 23 seasons, making it one of the longest-running children's programs on the network. 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. Burton himself won 12 Emmy awards as host and producer of the show.
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 application for the iPad in 2012, and was an immediate success, becoming the number-one educational application 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.
On May 28, 2014, Burton and numerous coworkers from other past works started a Kickstarter campaign project to bring back Reading Rainbow. To keep with the changing formats to which young children are exposed, his efforts are being directed at making this new program web based, following the success of the tablet application he helped create in recent years. His desire is to have the new Reading Rainbow be integrated into the classrooms of elementary schools across the country, and for schools in need to have free access. The Kickstarter campaign has since raised over $5 million, reaching triple its goal in only three days.
In 2017, LeVar Burton was sued by the public broadcasting company WNED-TV for alleged copyright infringement for use of the Reading Rainbow brand in marketing the new iPad app and other online media. RRKIDZ is now known as LeVar Burton Kids and the iPad app is now called Skybrary.
Star Trek: The Next Generation
In 1986, Gene Roddenberry approached Burton with the role of the then Lieutenant Junior Grade Geordi La Forge in the Star Trek: The Next Generation television series. The character is blind but is granted "sight" through the use of a prosthetic device called a VISOR worn over his eyes. La Forge started out serving as the USS Enterprise's helmsman, and as of the show's second season, had become its chief engineer. At the time, Burton was considerably better known than Patrick Stewart in the United States, due to his roles in Roots and Reading Rainbow. When the show premiered, the Associated Press stated that Burton's role was essentially the "new Spock". In a 2019 interview, Burton laughed in disbelief at the idea, stating "that speculation never came to fruition."
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 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 $25,000 and $100,000 Pyramids, 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, Junior Achievement of Southern California, 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 $188,500 win in a "Tournament of Losers" episode).
He has made appearances in such sitcoms as Becker.
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.
In 2010, he made an appearance on Tim and Eric Awesome Show, Great Job! as the ghost of himself in the episode "Greene Machine".
Burton 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), in November 2012 in the episode "The Habitation Configuration", in which he appears on "Fun With Flags" in exchange for lunch and gas money, and again in the November 2014 episode "The Champagne Reflection", in which he returns for the 232nd episode of "Fun With Flags" in exchange for Sheldon deleting his contact details.
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). In May 2014, he appeared as a guest on the YouTube channel SciShow, explaining the science behind double, tertiary, and quaternary rainbows. Late in 2014, he had another guest appearance on a 24-hour Extra Life, a fundraising organization for Children's Miracle Network hospitals, stream by Rooster Teeth. Burton has also taped a recycling field trip for YouTube.
In 2017, Burton began a podcast titled "LeVar Burton Reads". Each episode features Burton reading a short story.
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.
He has also directed episodes of Charmed, JAG, Las Vegas, and Soul Food: The Series, as well as the miniseries Miracle's Boys and the biopic The Tiger Woods Story. He also directed the 1999 Disney Channel Original Movie Smart House starring Katey Sagal, Kevin Kilner and Jessica Steen.
His first theatrical film direction was Blizzard (2003), 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".
Burton is on the board of directors for the Directors Guild of America.
LeVar Burton married Stephanie Cozart-Burton, a professional make-up artist, in 1992. Him and his wife currently live in Sherman Oaks, California. LeVar Burton has two children, a daughter Michaela "Mica" with his wife, and a son, Eian Burton (born 1980) from a previous relationship. Mica was an employee of Rooster Teeth's news division, The Know. Burton is also a fan of English football club Arsenal.
Although raised Catholic and at one point studying to become a priest, Burton no longer identifies with any religion, saying: "I walked away from the seminary, I walked away from Catholicism, I walked away from organized religion because I felt that there was more for me to explore in the world, and that I could do that without adhering to one specific belief system or another."
In 2016, Burton was one of the five inaugural honorees to the Sacramento Walk of Stars. In 2019, Sacramento named LeVar Burton Park in his honor. The park is located in the Meadowview neighborhood, down the street from the house where Burton and his sisters grew up.
Awards and honors
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- 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
- 1990 – Star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame at 7030 Hollywood Blvd. for television achievement
- 1992 – Peabody Award – Reading Rainbow (as executive producer of episode, "The Wall")
- 1994, 1996, 1999, 2002, 2003 – Image Award – 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)
- 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)
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- 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."
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My first day as an actor, Cicely Tyson played my mother, Maya Angelou played my grandmother.
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- Levar Burton (January 30, 2018). "Episode 15: "Unassigned Territory" by Stephanie Powell Watts". Levar Burton Reads (Podcast). Event occurs at 38:52. Retrieved November 20, 2018.
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- 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.
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