Levardis Robert Martyn Burton Jr.
February 16, 1957
Landstuhl, West Germany
|Alma mater||University of Southern California|
|Occupation||Actor, presenter, director, author|
Levardis Robert Martyn Burton Jr.  (born February 16, 1957) is an American actor, director, and children's television host. He is best known for his roles as Kunta Kinte in the ABC miniseries Roots (1977), Lt. Commander Geordi La Forge in the Star Trek: The Next Generation franchise (1987–1994), and as host of the PBS Kids educational television series Reading Rainbow for over 23 years (1983–2006), for which he has received 12 Daytime Emmy Awards, and a Peabody Award as host and executive producer of the show.
His other roles include Cap Jackson in Looking for Mr. Goodbar (1977), Donald Lang in Dummy (1979), Tommy Price in The Hunter (1980), which earned him an NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Actor in a Motion Picture, and Martin Luther King Jr. in Ali (2001). Burton received the Grammy Award for Best Spoken Word Album at the 42nd Annual Grammy Awards for his narration of the book The Autobiography of Martin Luther King Jr. In 1990, Burton was honored for his achievements in television with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
Levardis Robert Martyn Burton Jr. was born in Landstuhl, West Germany. His mother, Erma Gene (née Christian), was a social worker, administrator, and educator, while his father and namesake was a photographer for the U.S. Army Signal Corps stationed at Landstuhl at the time of his son's birth. Burton and his two sisters were raised by his mother in Sacramento, California.
As a teen, Burton, who was raised Roman Catholic, entered St. Pius X Minor Seminary in Galt, California, intending to become a priest. At 17, questioning the Catholic faith, he changed his vocation to acting, and at 19, while an undergraduate at the University of Southern California, he won a starring role in the 1977 television miniseries Roots.
Burton's 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.
He 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."
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 later became known as LeVar Burton Kids and the iPad app, 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."
Burton played a role as a visitor to Fantasy Island, guest star on “The Love Boat” 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.
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, LeVar Burton Reads. Each episode features Burton reading a short story. In 2020, during the COVID-19 pandemic, Burton continues to read on his podcast and also give live readings three times a week during a Twitter livestream focused at different time to different children, young adults, and adult audiences.
In November 2020, he appeared as himself on The Eric Andre Show. His segment was a callback to Lance Reddick's interview (2013) in which he mentioned LeVar by name and dressed as an amalgam of Kunta Kinte and Geordi La Forge.
Burton is scheduled to be a guest host on Jeopardy! from July 26–30, 2021. A petition asking the show's producers to select Burton was signed by over 240,000 of his fans.This special series of episodes allowed Burton to reconnect with his Star Trek producer, Gary Hausbeck.
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. In August 2020, it was revealed that Burton will sit in the director's chair for Two-Front War from Lou Reda Productions, a multi-perspective docuseries will give "an emotionally raw look at the connection between the fight for civil rights in America and the struggle for equality of Black soldiers in Vietnam".
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.
Burton does not identify 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 in the Meadowview neighborhood, near the house where Burton and his sisters grew up.
Awards and honors
This section needs additional citations for verification. (February 2019)
- 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)
- "Celebrity Q&A: Burton's Background". Salt Lake City, Utah. Associated Press. May 18, 1993. Archived from the original on November 15, 2020. Retrieved November 15, 2020 – via The Deseret News.
Levardis Robert Martyn Burton Jr. was born Feb. 16, 1957, in Landsthul, Germany. (His father, a career Army man, was stationed there.)
- "LeVar Burton Biography (1957–)". Filmreference.com. Retrieved February 26, 2011.
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- The Hunter (1980) - IMDb, retrieved June 10, 2021
- Burton, LeVar (verified account) [@levarburton] (May 10, 2015). "My Mother, Erma Gene Christian" (Tweet). Retrieved December 27, 2016 – via Twitter.
- Burton in Lee, Elyssa (February–March 2012). "LeVar Burton Q&A". Sactown Magazine. Archived from the original on November 15, 2020. Retrieved July 20, 2013.
- a"[Sacramento is] 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. My parents split up during [my military father's] 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."
- Fadulu, Lola (November 7, 2018). "LeVar Burton on Pursuing the Priesthood Before Acting". The Atlantic. Archived from the original on November 15, 2020. Retrieved September 30, 2019.
- @levarburton (June 7, 2019). "Didn't attend a Christian Brothers School" (Tweet). Archived from the original on November 15, 2020. Retrieved November 15, 2020 – via Twitter. "I went to St. Pius X Seminary & Prep in Galt. It was run by SDS actually, Society of the Divine Savior."
- Lee, Leslie (director) (1976). Richard Wright's Almos' a Man (VHS). Monterey Home Video.
- Burton, LeVar (November 7, 2018). "LeVar Burton on Pursuing the Priesthood Before Acting" (Interview). Interviewed by Lola Fadulu. The Atlantic. Retrieved July 26, 2020.
My first day as an actor, Cicely Tyson played my mother, Maya Angelou played my grandmother.
- "LeVar Burton: Awards and Nominations". Television Academy. Retrieved June 22, 2020.
- Beale, Lewis (January 29, 1987). "Researching TV's Roots a Decade Later". Ft. Lauderdale Sun Sentinel. Pqasb.pqarchiver.com. Retrieved February 26, 2011.
- Jones, Fred (May 19, 1999). "Learning to Read the Rainbow". Tacoma Herald.
- "Reading Rainbow Team". Rrkidz.com. Archived from the original on June 28, 2013. Retrieved June 16, 2013.
- Presenter: Melissa Block (May 28, 2014). "Burton Calls On 'Star Trek' Fans To Bring 'Reading Rainbow' To The Next Generation". All Things Considered. NPR.
- "Bring Reading Rainbow Back for Every Child, Everywhere! by LeVar Burton & Reading Rainbow — Kickstarter". Kickstarter. Retrieved December 27, 2016.
- "'Reading Rainbow' Owner Accuses LeVar Burton of "Theft and Extortion" in Lawsuit". The Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved September 16, 2019.
- "Welcome to Skybrary!". LeVar Burton Kids. Retrieved September 16, 2019.
- "LeVar Burton Cast As The Spock of TV's New 'Star Trek'". The Blade (Toledo, Ohio). August 2, 1987. Retrieved February 26, 2011.
- Loughlin, Ryan; Cronik, Scott (April 2, 2019). "OC Con returns to the music pier with special guest LeVar Burton". Press of Atlantic City. Atlantic City, NJ. Retrieved June 13, 2019.
- "Science of Peace". scienceofpeace.com.
- "LeVar Burton Buys Smosh (April Fools)". YouTube. Retrieved February 26, 2011.
- "James and Levar Burton". Hackaday.com. January 9, 2010. Retrieved December 27, 2016.
- Ratcliffe, Amy (June 28, 2017). "LeVar Burton's New Podcast is Like Reading Rainbow for Adults". Nerdist.
- LeVar Burton Reads: The Best Short Fiction, Handpicked by the Best Voice in Podcasting.
- "LeVar Burton Is Still Reading To Us During The Pandemic". NPR. August 1, 2020.
- Brown, Abram (April 3, 2020). "LeVar Burton Reading Live On Twitter Is Everything We Need Right Now". Forbes.
- "Jeopardy! Guest Host Schedule". jeopardy.com.
- "LeVar Burton to be 'Jeopardy!' guest host; petition credited". ABC News. Associated Press. April 21, 2021.
- Spangler, Todd; Spangler, Todd (June 23, 2021). "LeVar Burton Launches Internet Class Teaching 'Power of Storytelling'". Variety. Retrieved July 16, 2021.
- "LeVar Burton". IMDb. Retrieved April 5, 2017.
- Ramos, Dino-Ray (August 3, 2020). "LeVar Burton To Direct 'Two-Front War' Civil Rights Docuseries On Black Soldiers In Vietnam". deadline.com. Retrieved August 7, 2020.
- Burton, Levar [@levarburton] (October 3, 2019). "27 years ago today I jumped the broom with @StephanieCozart" (Tweet). Archived from the original on October 3, 2019. Retrieved November 15, 2020 – via Twitter.
- Stephanie Cozart Burton Makeup Artistry (official website). Retrieved on November 15, 2020. Archived from the original on November 15, 2020.
- "LeVar Burton Biography". TV Guide. Archived from the original on September 11, 2015. Retrieved November 15, 2020.
- Burton to Stephanie Powell Watts in Levar Burton (January 30, 2018). "Episode 15: 'Unassigned Territory'". Levar Burton Reads (Podcast). Event occurs at 38:52. Retrieved November 20, 2018.
- "Emmy Award Winner LeVar Burton Joins AIDS Research Alliance's Board of Directors" (Press release). AIDS Research Alliance. September 11, 2012. Archived from the original on December 20, 2016. Retrieved June 2, 2014.
- "2016". Sacramento Walk of Stars. 2016. Archived from the original on October 2, 2020. Retrieved June 13, 2019. (scroll down to 2016 honorees)
- Rossen, Jake (June 12, 2019). "Sacramento Has Renamed a Local Park After Reading Rainbow Host LeVar Burton". MentalFloss.com. Retrieved June 13, 2019.
- 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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