African-American character actor and director LeVar Burton was shot to international stardom playing the young Kunta Kinte on the highly acclaimed miniseries “Roots” (1977), from which he took home a 1977 Emmy nomination and a 2007 TV Land Award. He acquired further widespread popularity with his portrayal of Lt. Commander Geordi La Forge on the hit TV series “Star Trek: The Next Generation,” which ran for seven seasons from 1987 to 1994. After the show left the airwaves, he resurfaced as the blind officer on the “Star Trek” movies “Star Trek: Generations” (1994), “Star Trek: First Contact” (1996), “Star Trek: Insurrection” (1998) and “Star Trek: Nemesis” (2002) as well as in an episode of “Star Trek: Voyager” (1998). Burton is also best recalled by TV audiences as the host of the multi award-winning children's educational program “Reading Rainbow” (1983-2005). Also serving as producer/co-executive producer, the good-looking UCLA graduate netted a total of 7 Daytime Emmy Awards, including two for Outstanding Performer in a Children's Series, and four Image Awards. As a director, Burton has directed episodes of TV series, most notably “Star Trek: The Next Generation” (1993-1994), “Star Trek: Deep Space Nine” (1995-1999), “Star Trek: Voyager” (1995-2001) and “Star Trek: Enterprise” (2001-2005), two TV films and the feature films “Blizzard” (2003, earned a Chicago International Children's Film Festival Award) and “Reach for Me” (2008). He also directed the upcoming movie “Initiation” (2008).
In addition to acting and directing, Burton is known as a singer. Along with “The Next Generation” members that included Jonathan Frakes and Patrick Stewart, he formed a group called “The Sunspots” and they sang backup on the song “It's a Sin to Tell a Lie,” included in the 1991 Brent Spiner “Ol' Yellow Eyes is Back” album. His voice can also be heard on a track by The Orb titled “Little Fluffy Clouds.”
Burton is the author of “Aftermath,” a science fiction novel published in 1996. He won a Best Spoken Album Grammy Award in 1999 for narrating “The Autobiography of Martin Luther King Jr.”
Married in 1992, Burton and his wife of 16 years, Stephanie Cozart Burton, have one daughter together, Michaela. The family currently resides in Sherman Oaks, California. Burton shares custody of his son, Eian, with the mother of his son. Apart from his career in show business, the 5' 7” performer is a passionate poker player. He has taken part in the World Poker Tour. He is also an intense supporter of literacy for children and has been active in raising awareness of treatments for infertility.
Childhood and Family:
The son of an Army NCO and a teacher and social worker, Levardis Robert Martyn Burton Jr., who would later be famous as LeVar Burton, was born on February 19, 1957, in Landstuhl, West Germany, in which his father, Levardis Robert Burton Senior, was stationed. He attended a Catholic seminary to study for the priesthood when he was 13 years old, but left four years later to try his hand at acting. He holds a degree in drama and fine arts from the University of Southern California in Los Angeles, California.
On October 3, 1992, LeVar married Stephanie Cozart, the make-up artist of “Reading Rainbow,” whom he met on the set of “Roots: The Gift” in 1988. They had a daughter in July 1994 named Michaela Burton. He also has a son named Eian (born in 1980), from a previous relationship. He gained joint custody of his son through the courts following a paternity lawsuit.
German-born LeVar Burton left his priesthood studies in 1974 to become an actor. After appearing in the short movie “Almos' a Man,” as Dave, and hosting the WGBH show “Rebop” (both 1976), he landed his breakthrough TV role on the ABC groundbreaking miniseries “Roots” (1977). The series went on to become one of the most praised and highest rated programs in the history of U.S. television and successfully won 9 from a total of 37 Emmy nominations. Burton himself received an Emmy nomination for his brilliant portrayal of Kunte Kinte, the first American ancestor of author Alex Haley's family, and was later honored with the Anniversary Award at the 2007 TV Land Gala. The young actor was an undergraduate in USC's drama department when he was spotted and selected to play the role.
Burton's career took off after “Roots.” Later that same year, he was cast in the title role in the CBS TV film “Billy: Portrait of a Street Kid” and made his first big screen outing in Richard Brooks' “Looking for Mr. Goodbar,” starring Diane Keaton and Richard Kiley. He then starred as Ron LeFlore in the made-for-TV movie “One in a Million: The Ron LeFlore Story” (1978), based on a true story, shared top billing with Karen Grassle for the marital abuse-themed television movie “Battered” (1978) and rounded out the decade with a costarring role opposite Paul Sorvino in the Emmy-nominated drama “Dummy” (1979).
1980s saw Burton switch from lead roles to character players in many TV movies. Frequently cast as teachers, policemen and other conservative white-collar workers, he was reunited with “Roots” costar Madge Sinclair to play mother and son in the Emmy-winning biopic “Guyana Tragedy” (1980), supported Ted Bessell for the family/drama “The Acorn People” (1981), teamed up with Tim Burd and Sarah Purcell in “Emergency Room” (1983) and played Professor Preston in “The Jesse Owens Story” (1984). Other credits include “The Midnight Hour” (1985, opposite Kurtwood Smith), “Liberty” (1986, with Frank Langella and Chris Sarandon) and “A Special Friendship” (1987) before Burton recreated his coveted role of Kunta Kinte for the TV Christmas special “Roots: The Gift” (1988). Burton also had a significant part as Tommy Price in the biopic film “The Hunter” (1980), which is noted for becoming the last film of costar Steve McQueen, and made guest appearances in several TV series, including “Trapper John, M.D.” (1982), “The Love Boat” (1984) and “Murder, She Wrote” (1987).
In 1983, Burton started his hosting gig on the PBS long-running series “Reading Rainbow,” a hailed children's show he also executive produces. For his efforts, Burton picked up nine Daytime Emmy Awards: two honors for Outstanding Performer in a Children's Series (2001, 2002) and the rest for Outstanding Children's Series (1990, 1993, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2005, 2007, and four Images for Outstanding Performance in a Youth/Children's Series or Special (1995, 1999, 2002, 2003). He stopped working as a host in 2005 after having been with the show for 22 years.
Three years after working in “Reading Rainbow,” Burton won the regular role of Geordi La Forge, the blind starship engineer who wore a VISOR to see, in the syndicated sci-fi series “Star Trek: The Next Generation.” He stayed with the show from 1987 to 1994 when the series came to its demise. In addition to acting, Burton also made his directorial debut in the series' episode in 1993 called “Second Chances.” He returned to the director's chair the next year for the episode “The Pegasus.”
After “Star Trek: The Next Generation,” Burton spent the rest of the 1990s reprising his role of Lt. Commander Geordi La Forge for the “Star Trek” movie franchises such as “Star Trek: Generations” (1994), “Star Trek: First Contact” (1996) and “Star Trek: Insurrection” (1998) and in an episode of the spin-off series “Star Trek: Voyager” (1998). He also directed several episodes of “Star Trek: Deep Space Nine” (1995-1999) and “Star Trek: Voyager” (1995-2001). Outside of “Star Trek,” Burton also acted in such TV films as “Parallel Lives” (1994), “Yesterday's Target” (1996) in the short-lived CBS series “Christy” (1995), where he played Daniel Scott, and helmed the Showtime biopic TV film “The Tiger Woods Story” (1998) and Katey Sagal in the Disney Channel family/comedy television movie “Smart House” (1999).
Entering the new millennium, Burton could be seen playing Mr. Haller in an episode of “Becker” (2000) and had a cameo role as Martin Luther Jr. in the biographical movie “Ali” (2001), directed by Michael Mann and starring Will Smith. He again played Geordi La Forge in the movie “Star Trek: Nemesis” (2002). The following year, Burton returned to the director's chair to direct Paul Bates, Brenda Blethyn and Brittany Bristow for his first feature film, “Blizzard” (2003), in which Burton also had an unaccredited part as a night watchman elf. The family movie was nominated for a Young Artist award for Best International Feature Film and brought Burton a Chicago International Children's Film Festival award in the category of Best of the Fest and a Genie nomination for Best Achievement in Music-Original Song for the song “Center of My Heart,” (shared with David Martin and Pamela Phillips Oland).
Burton went on to direct the miniseries “Miracle's Boys” (2005), some episodes of “Star Trek: Enterprise” (2005), “Charmed” (4 episodes, 2005-2004) and “Las Vegas” (1 episode, 2006). He revisited feature directing in 2008 with “Reach for Me,” a comedy/drama starring Seymour Casse, Alfre Woodard and Johnny Whitworth. He also costarred in the film as Nathanial.
51-year-old Burton will direct the big screen adaptation of “Initiation” (2008), a drama based on the true story of African Shaman, Dr. Malidoma Patrice Some.
Daytime Emmy: Outstanding Children's Series, “Reading Rainbow,” 2007
TV Land: Anniversary Award, “Roots,” 2007
Daytime Emmy: Outstanding Children's Series, “Reading Rainbow,” 2005
Chicago International Children's Film Festival: Best of the Fest, “Blizzard,” 2004
Daytime Emmy: Outstanding Children's Series, “Reading Rainbow,” 2003
Image: Outstanding Performance in a Youth/Children's Series or Special, “Reading Rainbow,” 2003
Daytime Emmy: Outstanding Children's Series, “Reading Rainbow,” 2002
Daytime Emmy: Outstanding Performer in a Children's Series, “Reading Rainbow,” 2002
Image: Outstanding Performance in a Youth or Children's Series/Special, “Reading Rainbow,” 2002
Daytime Emmy: Outstanding Children's Series, “Reading Rainbow,” 2001
Daytime Emmy: Outstanding Performer in a Children's Series, “Reading Rainbow,” 2001
Image: Outstanding Performance in a Youth or Children's Series/Special, “Reading Rainbow,” 1999
Grammy: Best Spoken Album, 1999 (as narrator for “The Autobiography of Martin Luther King Jr.”)
Image: Outstanding Performance in a Youth or Children's Series/Special, “Reading Rainbow,” 1995
Daytime Emmy: Outstanding Children's Series, “Reading Rainbow,” 1993
Daytime Emmy: Outstanding Children's Series, “Reading Rainbow,” 1990