LeVar Burton

"LeVar" redirects here. For the American football coach, see LeVar Woods.
LeVar Burton

Burton in April 2014
Born Levardis Robert Martyn Burton Jr.
(1957-02-16) February 16, 1957
Landstuhl, West Germany
Nationality American
Other names LeVar Burton
Occupation Actor, director, author
Years active 1976–present
Spouse(s) Stephanie Cozart Burton
(m. 1992–present)
Children Eian Burton
Michaela Jean Burton
Awards See Awards
Website levarburton.com

Levardis Robert Martyn Burton Jr. (born February 16, 1957), professionally known as LeVar Burton, is an American actor, presenter, director, and author. He is best known for his roles as the host of the long-running PBS children's series Reading Rainbow, Lt. Commander Geordi La Forge in Star Trek: The Next Generation and the young Kunta Kinte in the 1977 award-winning ABC television miniseries Roots. He has also directed a number of television episodes for various iterations of Star Trek, among other programs.

Early life

Burton was born to American parents 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.[1] His father, Levardis Robert Martyn Burton, was a photographer for the U.S. Army Signal Corps at the time he was stationed at Landstuhl.[2][3][4] Burton and his two sisters were raised by his mother in Sacramento, California.[5] Burton was raised Roman Catholic and, at the age of thirteen, entered St. Pius X seminary in Galt, California, to become a priest.[6]

Burton attended St. Pius X Seminary [7] in Galt and graduated in the class of 1974. While in seminary, Burton read works by the philosophers Lao-Tzu, Nietzsche and Kierkegaard which caused him to question the Catholic dogma that Catholicism is the only true religion.[8] At seventeen, Burton left the seminary to enroll at the University of Southern California with a drama scholarship.[9] While at the University of Southern California, Burton was a member of the Sigma Alpha Mu fraternity. He is a graduate of the University of Southern California's School of Theatre. [10]


Early work

LeVar Burton made his acting debut in 1977 when he played Kunta Kinte in the ABC award-winning drama series Roots, based on the novel by Alex Haley. Burton's audition for the role of Kinte was the first of his professional career.[11] As a result of his performance, he was nominated for the Emmy for Best Actor in a Drama Series. Burton reprised the role of Kunta Kinte in the 1988 television film Roots: The Gift. When asked about the societal impacts 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."[12]

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 accepted an invitation to host Rebop, a multicultural series designed for young people ages 9–15, produced by WGBH for PBS.

Reading Rainbow

Burton was host and executive producer of Reading Rainbow starting in 1983 for PBS.[13] The series ran for 23 seasons, making it one of the longest-running children's programs on the network. Furthermore, 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.[14][15] Burton himself won 12 Emmy awards as host and producer of the show.[16]

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 cofounder and curator-in-chief, ensuring that the projects produced under the banner meet the high expectations and trust of the Reading Rainbow brand.[17]

On May 28, 2014, Burton and numerous coworkers from other past works started a Kickstarter campaign project to bring Reading Rainbow back. 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.[18] The Kickstarter campaign has since raised over $5 million, reaching triple its goal in only 3 days.[19]

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. La Forge is blind, but is granted "sight" through the use of a prosthetic device called a VISOR, which is 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 role in Roots and Reading Rainbow. The Associated Press stated that Burton's role was essentially the "new Spock".[20]

Burton also portrayed La Forge in the subsequent feature films based on Star Trek: The Next Generation, beginning with Star Trek: Generations in 1994 through 2002's Star Trek: Nemesis.

In addition to acting in the franchise, Burton also directed two episodes of Star Trek: The Next Generation, and several episodes of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, Star Trek: Voyager, and Star Trek: Enterprise.

Other appearances

Burton with social activist and former Second Lady Tipper Gore

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 1987, Burton played Dave Robinson, a journalist (sports writer), in the third season of Murder, She Wrote, episode 16 - "Death Takes a Dive", starring Angela Lansbury as Jessica Fletcher.

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. In an ironic twist, Burton taped a recycling field trip for YouTube.

Burton appeared several times as a celebrity guest on the Dick Clark–hosted Pyramid, 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, 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 at the Schlow Centre Region Library, January 29, 2007

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.[21]

He appeared in an April Fool's episode of Smosh pretending to have taken over the channel and making various edits at popular Smosh videos.[22]

He makes occasional appearances on This Week in Tech, where he is a self-proclaimed "nerd", and also participated in the Consumer Electronics Show 2010.[23]

In 2010, he made an appearance on Tim and Eric Awesome Show, Great Job! as the ghost of himself in the episode "Greene Machine".

In February 2011, Burton made an appearance as himself on NBC's Community in the episodes "Intermediate Documentary Filmmaking" and "Geothermal Escapism".

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 2012, he had a recurring role as dean Paul Haley on the TNT series Perception. For the second season (2013), he became part of the regular cast.

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 fund-raising organization for Children’s Miracle Network hospitals, stream by Rooster Teeth.


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.

Burton is on the board of directors for the Directors Guild of America.

Burton has also directed episodes of Charmed, JAG, Las Vegas, and Soul Food: The Series, as well as the miniseries Miracle's Boys and the documentary 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 2003's Blizzard, 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".

Personal life

LeVar Burton married Stephanie Cozart-Burton,[24] a professional make-up artist, in 1992. He and his wife currently live in Sherman Oaks, California.[9] LeVar Burton has two children, a daughter Michaela (Mica) with his wife, and a son, Eian Burton (born 1980) from a previous relationship.[25]


Burton serves on the board of directors for the AIDS Research Alliance, a nonprofit, medical research organization dedicated to finding a cure for AIDS.[26]



Year Film Role Note
1976 Almos' a Man Dave Alternative title: Richard Wright's Almos' a Man
1977 Looking for Mr. Goodbar Cap Jackson
Billy: Portrait of a Street Kid Billy Peoples
1978 One in a Million: The Ron LeFlore Story Ron Leflore The Man of Passion
Battered Andrew Sinclair
1979 Dummy Donald Lang
1980 Guyana Tragedy: The Story of Jim Jones Richard Jefferson
The Hunter Tommy Price
1981 The Acorn People Rodney
Grambling's White Tiger Charles 'Tank' Smith
1983 Emergency Room Ray Walden
1984 The Jesse Owens Story Professor Preston
Booker Davis
1985 And the Children Shall Lead Glenn Scott Alternative title: PBS Wonderworks: And the Children Shall Lead
The Midnight Hour Vinnie Davis Alternative title: In the Midnight Hour
1986 The Supernaturals Pvt. Michael Osgood
Liberty Robert Johnson
1987 A Special Friendship Ben Summer
1988 Roots: The Gift Kunta Kinte Alternative title: A Roots Christmas: Kunta Kinte's Gift
1993 Firestorm: 72 Hours In Oakland Fire Chief J. Alan Mathers Alternative title: Firestorm: A Catastrophe in Oakland
1994 Parallel Lives Dr. Franklin Carter
Star Trek: Generations Lt. Cmdr. Geordi La Forge
1996 Yesterday's Target Winstrom
Star Trek: First Contact Lt. Cmdr. Geordi La Forge
1998 Star Trek: Insurrection Lt. Cmdr. Geordi La Forge
1999 Our Friend, Martin Martin, Age 26 (voice)
2000 Dancing in September Himself
2001 Ali Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
2002 Star Trek: Nemesis Lt. Cmdr. Geordi La Forge
2003 Blizzard Night Watchman Elf Directed by Burton
2008 Reach for Me Nathaniel
2009 Taken in Broad Daylight Mike Timbrook
Superman/Batman Public Enemies Jefferson Pierce/Black Lightning (voice)
2011 And They're Off Himself
2012 Rise of the Zombies Dr. Dan Halpern Television movie
2015 Practice Makes Perfect Principal Healy


Burton with Brent Spiner and William Shatner in July 2010
Year Title Role Notes
1976–1979 Rebop Host
1977 Roots Kunta Kinte TV Miniseries
1982 Trapper John, M.D. Luther Peacock Episode: "A Piece of the Action"
1983 Fantasy Island Edward Ross Jr. Episode: "Edward/The Extraordinary Miss Jones"
1983–2006 Reading Rainbow Host 155 episodes
1984 The Love Boat Darnell Episode: "Love is Blind"
1987 Murder, She Wrote Reporter Dave Robinson Episode: "Death Take a Dive"
1987 Houston Knights Jason Evans Episode: "Bad Girl"
1987–1994 Star Trek: The Next Generation Geordi La Forge 178 episodes
1990–1996 Captain Planet and the Planeteers Kwame (voice) 113 episodes
1993 Batman the Animated Series Hayden Sloane/Hatter Henchman (voice) Episode: "The Worry Men"
1995 Christy Daniel Scott 7 episodes
1995 Deadly Games Mr. Metcalf Episode: "The Boss"
1995 Happily Ever After: Fairy Tales for Every Child Voice Episode: "The Frog Prince"
1996 Gargoyles Anansi Episode: "Mark of the Panther"
1997 Pinky and the Brain Murray Episode: "The Real Life"
1998 Star Trek: Voyager Captain Geordi LaForge Episode: "Timeless"
1998 Mister Rogers' Neighborhood Himself Episode: "Giving and Receiving"
2000 Becker Mr. Haller Episode: "Beckerethics"
2003 Boomtown Marvin Lloyd Episode: "The Hole-in-the-Wall Gang"
2005–2009 Family Guy Vern / Himself (voice) Episodes: "Petarded" and "Not All Dogs Go to Heaven"
2009 The Super Hero Squad Show War Machine (voice) Episode: "Tales of Suspense"
2010 Tim and Eric Awesome Show, Great Job! Ghost of LeVar Burton Episode: "Greene Machine"
2010 The Jensen Project Kendrick James TV film (brokered programming from Procter & Gamble/Wal-Mart)[27]
2011–2014 Community Himself Episodes: "Intermediate Documentary Filmmaking" and "Geothermal Escapism"
& 2012 & 2014
The Big Bang Theory Himself Episodes: "The Toast Derivation", "The Habitation Configuration" and The Champagne Reflection"
2012 Face Off Himself Episode: "Alien Interpreters"
2012–present Transformers: Rescue Bots Doc Greene (voice) 26 episodes
2012–2015 Perception Paul Haley 30 episodes
2013 Adventure Time Bubble (voice) Episode: "BMO Lost"
2014 Hell's Kitchen Himself Season 13 Episode 14: "5 Chefs Compete"
2016 Roots Ephraim Episode: "1 episode"


Year Work Note
1987–1994 Star Trek: The Next Generation 2 episodes
1993–1999 Star Trek: Deep Space Nine 10 episodes
1995–2001 Star Trek: Voyager 8 episodes
1998 The Tiger Woods Story Alternative title: Son, Hero, and Champion
1998–2006 Charmed 3 episodes
1999 Smart House Disney Channel Original Movies
2000–2004 Soul Food 2 episodes
2001–2005 Star Trek: Enterprise 9 episodes
2003 Blizzard
JAG 1 episode
2005 Miracle's Boys 1 episode
2006 Las Vegas 1 episode
2008 Reach for Me






  1. https://mobile.twitter.com/levarburton/status/597417014760644609
  2. "LeVar Burton Biography (1957-)". Filmreference.com. Retrieved 2011-02-26.
  3. "NewsLibrary.com - newspaper archive, clipping service - newspapers and other news sources". 1993-05-18.
  4. "Pennsylvania: Burton speaks of 'Roots,' other strong influences". Herald-mail.com. Retrieved 2011-02-26.
  5. Lee, Elyssa (February–March 2012). "LeVar Burton Q&A". Sactown magazine. Retrieved July 20, 2013.
    • 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." — ¶ 15.
  6. "LeVar Burton At Book-Signing: Actor, Now Author, Returns To - Sacramento Observer | HighBeam Research - FREE trial". Highbeam.com. 1997-02-19. Retrieved 2011-02-26.
  7. http://fox40.com/2016/11/21/remake-of-roots-now-streaming-on-hulu/
  8. "Metacritic.com". Metacritic.com. Retrieved 2014-01-08.
  9. 1 2 "Bio.com". Biography.com. 1957-02-16. Retrieved 2014-01-08.
  10. "USC School of Dramatic Arts Alumni".
  11. "Burton, LeVar. Twitter status update, 11:28 PM (PST) 27 August 2010". Twitter.com. 2010-08-27. Retrieved 2011-02-26.
  12. Beale, Lewis (1987-01-29). "Sun Sentinel Ft. Lauderdale January 29, 1987". Pqasb.pqarchiver.com. Retrieved 2011-02-26.
  13. Jones, Fred (1999-05-19). "Learning to Read the Rainbow". Tacoma Herald.
  14. "Reading Rainbow Awards". IMDb.com. Retrieved 16 June 2013.
  15. "About Us - Reading Rainbow". Retrieved 16 June 2013.
  16. "LeVar Burton Awards". IMDb.com. Retrieved 16 June 2013.
  17. "Reading Rainbow Team". Retrieved 16 June 2013.
  18. "Burton Calls On 'Star Trek' Fans To Bring 'Reading Rainbow' To The Next Generation". NPR. 28 May 2014.
  19. https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/readingrainbow/bring-reading-rainbow-back-for-every-child-everywh/
  20. "Toledo Blade August 2, 1987". News.google.com. 1987-08-02. Retrieved 2011-02-26.
  21. "Science of Peace". scienceofpeace.com.
  22. "LeVar Burton Buys Smosh (April Fools)". YouTube. Retrieved 2011-02-26.
  23. "LeVar Burton at CES 2010.".
  24. "Matinee Classics". Matinee Classics. 1957-02-16. Retrieved 2014-01-08.
  25. "Actor Levar Burton has paid $8,863 in overdue child...". United Press International. February 2, 1984.
  26. "Emmy Award Winner LeVar Burton Joins AIDS Research Alliance's Board of Directors". AIDS Research Alliance. September 11, 2012. Retrieved 2 June 2014.
  27. "NBC sets 'Jensen' with P&G, Wal-Mart". The Hollywood Reporter. October 13, 2010. Retrieved 2012-02-19.

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