S. Epatha Merkerson
Merkerson in 2017
Sharon Epatha Merkerson
November 28, 1952
Saginaw, Michigan, United States
|Alma mater||Wayne State University (BFA)|
Toussaint L. Jones
(m. 1994; div. 2006)
Sharon Epatha Merkerson (//; born November 28, 1952) is an American film, stage, and television actress. She has received numerous high-profile accolades for her work, including an Emmy Award, a Golden Globe Award, a Screen Actors Guild Award, four NAACP Image Awards, two Obie Awards and two Tony Award nominations. Merkerson is also the recipient of 4 honorary doctorate degrees. She is best known for her award-winning portrayal of Lieutenant Anita Van Buren on the NBC police procedural drama series Law & Order, a role she played from 1993 to 2010. She appeared in 395 episodes of the series.
In 2015, she was cast as Sharon Goodwin, Chief of Medical Services of the fictional Gaffney Chicago Medical Center Hospital on the NBC medical drama Chicago Med.
Merkerson was born in Saginaw, Michigan. Her parents separated when she was five. One of five children raised by a single mother who worked for the United States Postal Service, Merkerson grew up in what she recalled to be a majority-white neighborhood in Detroit.
During a segment on the January 31, 2012 episode of The Wendy Williams Show, when questioned about the origin of her name, Merkerson shared that "Epatha" was the name of "a grade-school teacher who was influential in keeping [her father] in school". She further went on to clarify that she prefers to be addressed as "Epatha" as opposed to "S. Epatha".
Merkerson graduated from Cooley High School in 1970. Initially attending Eastern Michigan University as a dance major and later transferring to Indiana University Bloomington, Merkerson completed her Bachelor of Fine Arts in theatre at Wayne State University in 1976. She was conferred an Honorary Doctor of Humane Letters from Wayne State University in May 2009 and received the same distinction from the University of Maryland Eastern Shore in 2012, Montclair State University in 2013 and the University of Pittsburgh in 2017.
She first appeared in the NBC police procedural drama Law & Order in Season 1: Episode 17, titled "Mushrooms", as the grief-stricken mother of an 11-month-old boy who is shot accidentally. Her performance impressed the producers enough to select Merkerson to replace Dann Florek as detective squad chief in the series' fourth season, making her one of the few actors to secure a recurring role after an initial single appearance on the show.
Merkerson's star began to rise after she assumed the lead role in the one-woman play, Lady Day at Emerson's Bar and Grill. That was followed by a Tony Award nomination as Best Featured Actress in a Play for her performance as Berniece in August Wilson's Pulitzer Prize–winning play The Piano Lesson. Merkerson won an Obie Award in 1992 for her work in I'm Not Stupid. Her screen credits include Jacob's Ladder, Loose Cannons, She's Gotta Have It, James Cameron's Terminator 2: Judgment Day; and "Navy Seals". In 2006, she won a Golden Globe Award, an Emmy Award and a Screen Actors Guild award for her performance in the HBO film Lackawanna Blues. In 2007, she starred as Lola Delaney in the Los Angeles stage production of William Inge's Come Back, Little Sheba, playing the role made famous by Shirley Booth. In January 2008 the production opened a successful run on Broadway and earned Merkerson her second Tony nomination.
On April 1, 2010, it was confirmed that after 17 seasons, Merkerson would leave Law & Order at the end of the show's twentieth season. Her departure from Law & Order, which aired on May 24, 2010, was also the show's final episode. In total, Merkerson appeared on the series for 17 consecutive seasons - 395 episodes — which was more than any other actor associated with the program.
In 2012, Merkerson became the host of the show Find Our Missing which highlights the search for missing people of color. It is designed to put names and faces to people of color who have disappeared without a trace. Each episode tells the story of the missing person or persons, beginning with the day they vanished, the frantic searches by loved ones and the investigations into their disappearances. Find Our Missing provides insight into these victims’ lives: their hopes and dreams, what makes them tick and how they have touched those around them — from the people who knew them best.
In 2014, Merkerson appeared in the Primary Stages production of While I Yet Live, which was written by Tony Award winner Billy Porter.
In 2015 Merkerson joined the cast of NBC medical drama Chicago Med as Sharon Goodwin, Chief of Medical Services. The series was conceived and written by Law and Order creator Dick Wolf, along with Matt Olmstead, Derek Haas and Michael Brandt.
In 2014 Merkerson became a spokesperson for Merck America’s Diabetes Challenge, to increase type 2 diabetes awareness among African Americans.
Merkerson appeared in Season 5, Episode 5 of Dr. Henry Louis Gates Finding Your Roots on February 5, 2019, in which he revealed that she was a descendant of Isaac Hawkins and eight others of the 272 enslaved people who were sold in the 1838 Jesuit slave sale by Jesuit priests who owned the plantations on which the enslaved people tilled tobacco; proceeds from the sale were used to pay off the debts of the Jesuit-operated Georgetown College (now Georgetown University).
Merkerson is an outspoken advocate against smoking and for lung cancer research and awareness.
From 1994 to 2006, Merkerson was married to Toussaint L. Jones.
|1986||She's Gotta Have It||Doctor Jamison|
|1991||Terminator 2: Judgment Day||Tarissa Dyson|
|2001||The Rising Place||Lessie Watson|
|2006||Black Snake Moan||Angela|
|2009||The Six Wives of Henry Lefay||Effa|
|2009||Mother and Child||Ada|
|2012||Find Our Missing||Herself|
|2013||Tyler Perry Presents Peeples||Daphne Peeples|
|2016||Year by the Sea||Liz|
Awards and nominations
- 1992 Obie Award Outstanding Performance (I'm Not Stupid)
- 1999 Helen Hayes Award Outstanding Lead Actress-Resident Play (The Old Settler)
- 2002 Regulus Award For her dedication to lung cancer awareness and education
- 2005 Emmy Award for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Miniseries or a Movie (Lackawanna Blues)
- 2006 SunDeis Film Festival at Brandeis University Entertainer of the Year Award
- 2006 Screen Actors Guild Award Outstanding Performance by a Female Actor in a Television Movie or Miniseries (Lackawanna Blues)
- 2006 PRISM Award Performance in a TV-Movie or Miniseries (Lackawanna Blues)
- 2006 Obie Award Outstanding Performance (Birdie Blue)
- 2006 NAACP Image Award Best Supporting Actress in a Drama Series (Law & Order)
- 2006 NAACP Image Award Best Actress in a Made for TV Movie, Miniseries or Dramatic Special (Lackawanna Blues)
- 2006 Gracie Allen Award Outstanding Female Lead – Miniseries (Lackawanna Blues)
- 2006 Golden Globe Award for Best Performance by an Actress in a Mini-Series or a Motion Picture Made for Television (Lackawanna Blues)
- 2006 Black Reel Award Best Actress in a Made for TV Movie or Miniseries (Lackawanna Blues)
- 2010 NAACP Image Award Best Supporting Actress in a Drama Series (Law & Order)
- 2011 NAACP Image Award Best Supporting Actress in a Drama Series (Law & Order)
- 2013 Honorary Degree, Doctor of Letters, Montclair State University
- 1990 Helen Hayes Award Best Actress, Non-Resident Play (The Piano Lesson)
- 1990 Drama Desk Award Best Actress, Lead Role-Play (The Piano Lesson)
- 1990 Tony Award Best Actress, Featured Role-Play (The Piano Lesson)
- 1997 NAACP Image Award Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama Series (Law & Order)
- 1998 NAACP Image Award Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama Series (Law & Order)
- 1999 NAACP Image Award Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama Series (Law & Order)
- 2001 NAACP Image Award Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama Series (Law & Order)
- 2003 Lucille Lortel Award Outstanding Lead Actress (Fucking A)
- 2003 Drama League Award Distinguished Performance (Fucking A)
- 2005 Satellite Award Outstanding Actress in a Miniseries or a Motion Picture Made for Television (Lackawanna Blues)
- 2006 Vision Award Best Dramatic Performance (Lackawanna Blues)
- 2006 Lucille Lortel Award Best Actress (Birdie Blue)
- 2006 Independent Spirit Award Best Female Lead (Lackawanna Blues)
- 2006 Drama League Award Distinguished Performance (Birdie Blue)
- 2007 NAACP Image Award Best Supporting Actress in a Drama Series (Law & Order)
- 2008 NAACP Image Award Best Supporting Actress in a Drama Series (Law & Order)
- 2008 NAACP Image Award Best Actress in a Made for TV Movie, Miniseries or Dramatic Special (Girl, Positive)
- 2008 Tony Award Best Performance by a Leading Actress in a Play (Come Back, Little Sheba)
- 2008 NAACP Theatre Award Best Lead Female – Equity (Come Back, Little Sheba)
- "S. Epatha Merkerson" in 'Come Back, Little Sheba'". The Leonard Lopate Show, February 22, 2008. WNYC, New York. Elapsed time approx. 15:50. Retrieved 2008-02-23 Archived February 25, 2008, at the Wayback Machine
- "Exclusive: S. Epatha Merkerson exits 'Law & Order'". Entertainment Weekly. Archived from the original on April 4, 2010. Retrieved November 20, 2019.
- "Interview with S. Epatha Merkerson". The Wendy Williams Show. Archived from the original on February 26, 2012. Retrieved January 31, 2012.
- Labbé-DeBose, Theola (January 18, 2012). "TV One's 'Find Our Missing' highlight African Americans who vanished". The Washington Post. Retrieved May 28, 2012.
- Fletcher, Sharon Melson, "S. Epatha Merkerson", Contemporary Black Biography, Gale, retrieved September 14, 2018
- "S. Epatha Merkerson". TV Guide. Retrieved September 14, 2018.
- "S. Epatha Merkerson". Biography.com. A&E Networks. Retrieved September 14, 2018.
- Stated in interview on Inside the Actors Studio
- "Closing the Case With Law & Order's S. Epatha Merkerson" tv.com, Retrieved January 31, 2012
- Andreeva, Nellie. "Laurie Holden Cast In NBC's 'Chicago Med'". deadline.com. Deadline. Retrieved March 11, 2015.
- "PBS' Finding Your Roots Shares History of the GU272", Georgetown Voice