LeVar Burton was born Levardis Robert Martyn Burton on February 16, 1957 in Landstuhl, Germany, where his father was serving as a U.S. Army Signal Corps photographer. His mother, Erma Christian Burton, is an English teacher, social worker and administrator. When Burton was 15, his mother and father separated and he went with her and his sisters Letitia and Valencia to live in California.
Burton was a student at the USC school of drama in 1977, when Alex Haley and the producers cast him in the role of the young slave Kunta Kinte in the TV miniseries based on Haley’s book “Roots.” This was one of the most popular TV presentations of the time, and it catapulted young Burton into national prominence.
A versatile actor and director, LeVar Burton is perhaps best known to Americans of the current day for his role as Lt. Geordi LaForge, the blind engineer on the popular TV series “Star Trek: The Next Generation.” He played this role from 1987 to 1994, during which time he directed for the first time in 1993. Burton is the creator, producer and host of the long-running PBS show “Reading Rainbow,” which won several Emmies.
Burton has not been active in front of the camera since TNG was cancelled, but has continued to direct. He has directed episodes of “Charmed,” “JAG,” and “Las Vegas.” His screen credits are varied. On the big screen, he had a small role in “Looking for Mr. Goodbar” with Diane Keaton. His first major screen credit was in the movie “Almos’ a Man” in 1977. Among his TV movies are “One in a Million: The Ron Leflore Story” in 1978, and “Dummy” in 1979.
Burton was lauded for his sensitivity to children as host of “Reading Rainbow,” for never talking down to his young audience, but rather discovering the joy of reading along with them. In 1994, he received the NAACP Image Award for his work on this show.
After the phenomenal success of “Roots,” Burton feared being too closely identified with the Kunta Kinte character and sought to establish his own identity separate from the role. Being cast in the TNG role helped him to establish himself as an actor with a broad range of skills, and gave him enough confidence that he even agreed to reprise the Kunta Kinte role with actor Ben Vereen in the 1988.
Along with his acting and directing credits, Burton is a published author, penning the apocalyptic novel “Aftermath” in 1997. He is also an avid poker player, participating regularly in the World Poker Tour.
Burton is married to TV makeup artist Stephanie Cozart and they have one daughter. He also has a son from a previous relationship.