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Levardis Robert Martyn Burton, Jr. (born February 16, 1957 in Landstuhlmarker, West Germanymarker), professionally known as LeVar Burton, is an Americanmarker actor, director and author who first came to prominence portraying Kunta Kinte in the 1977 award-winning ABC television miniseries Roots, based on the novel by Alex Haley. He is also well known for his portrayal of Geordi La Forge on the syndicated science fiction series Star Trek: The Next Generation, Planeteer Kwame from Captain Planet and the Planeteers, and as the host of the PBS children's program Reading Rainbow.

LeVar Burton, San Diego, 2009

Early life

Burton was born to American parents at the U.S. Army Landstuhl Regional Medical Centermarker in West Germany. His mother, Erma Jean (née Christian), was a social worker, administrator, educator. His father, Levardis Robert Martyn Burton, was a photographer for the U.S. Army Signal Corps, and at the time was stationed at Landstuhl. Burton and his two sisters were raised by his mother in Sacramento, California. Burton was raised Catholic and at the age of thirteen, entered a seminary to become a priest. He attended Christian Brothers High School and graduated in the class of 1974. He is a graduate of University of Southern California'smarker School of Theatre.

Early career

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 9–13, produced by WGBH for PBS.

Burton created and began to host and executive produce Reading Rainbow in 1983 for PBS.

Star Trek: The Next Generation

In 1986, Gene Roddenberry approached him with the role of the then Lieutenant Junior Grade Geordi La Forge in the Star Trek: The Next Generation television series. Geordi La Forge was the USS Enterprise's helmsman and, as of the second season, its Chief Engineer.

Burton has also portrayed La Forge in every feature film based on Star Trek: The Next Generation, beginning with Star Trek Generations in 1994 through 2002's Star Trek Nemesis. Burton also directed and appeared in the Star Trek: Voyager Season 5 episode "Timeless".

Other appearances

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.

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 also 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 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.

He has also made appearances in such sitcoms as Becker and Spin City.

Burton is the host and executive producer of a documentary entitled The Science of Peace, which is 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 Sciencesmarker.

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

He makes occasional appearances on This Week in Tech, where he is a self-proclaimed "nerd".


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 Americamarker.

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.

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."

He also directed the 1999 Disney Channel Original Movie Smart House starring Katey Sagal, Kevin Kilner and Jessica Steen.

His most recent directorial project "Reach For Me", in which he also played a supporting role, was released in theaters in March 2008.

His production company is Integrity Entertainment.

Personal life

Burton has a daughter, born in 1994, with his wife, make-up artist Stephanie Cozart Burton, and a son, born in 1980 to another woman. Burton was awarded joint custody of his son after a paternity suit. Burton and his wife and daughter currently live in Sherman Oaks, Californiamarker.

He is an avid poker player, and participant in the World Poker Tour.



  • 1977 Emmy — Outstanding Lead Actor for a Single Performance in a Drama or Comedy Series —' Roots ' (Part 1, "Kunta Kinte")
  • 1996, 1999 Daytime Emmy — Outstanding Children's Series —' Reading Rainbow ' (Executive Producer)
  • 1999, 2003, 2005 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 '


  • Star on the Hollywood Walk of Famemarker at 7030 Hollywood Blvd. for television achievement (unveiled 1990)
  • 1992 Peabody AwardReading Rainbow (as executive producer of episode, "The Wall")
  • 1995-1996, 1999, 2002-2003 Image Awardvariously 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.
  • 2001-2003, 2005 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)



  • Aftermath, 1997, ISBN 0-446-67960-7

See also

  • 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.


  4. Wellesley College on iTunes
  8. WPT | LeVar Burton

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