LeVar Burton





Landstuhl, Rhineland-Palatinate, Germany

Birth Name

Levardis Robert Martyn Burton Jr.




LeVar Burton (born Levardis Robert Martyn Burton, Jr.) was born in Landstuhl, Germany to Sgt. Levardis Robert Burton Sr, (a photographer for the U.S. Army) and Erma Burton (a teacher and social worker) on February 16 1957. When he was three years old, his parents separated and LeVar returned to California with his mother and two sisters, Letitia and Valencia. Even as a young child, LeVar was insatiably curious about everything around him. He credited that trait to being the son of a teacher who always encouraged him to read and to expand his frame of knowledge.

As a teenager, he studied the works of philosophers like Lao-Tzu, Kierkegaard, and Nietzsche while attending a Catholic seminary school to learn to be a priest. However, the more he explored the viewpoints of other cultures, the less he could accept that the Catholic Church's dogma that Catholicism is the only proper way to view the world. By the age of 17, he realized that the seminary was not the path for him, but he still holds to his faith. What he did find himself drawn to is acting. He enrolled in the University of Southern California's drama program through a scholarship. In January 23 of 1977, just a few weeks before his 20th birthday, he landed the role that would catapult this young actor to international fame: Kunta Kinte in the c mini-series, "Roots". Based on the family history of author Alex Haley, the series chronicled the life stories of those people who taken by European slave traders to the United States and forced to live in bondage. LeVar's portrayal of Kunta Kinte was hailed as a masterful performance, but it carried a cost. For years to come, LeVar was pigeonholed in that role. Casting directors didn't want to consider him for any other roles because he would instantly evoke the image of Kunta. As a result, LeVar had to make a conscious and considerable effort to distance himself from his breakout role in order to land other jobs. In doing so, he succeeded in landing supporting roles in films like "Looking for Mr. Goodbar" and television movies like "One in a Million: The Ron LeFlore Story", "Billy: Portrait of a Street Kid" and "Dummy". Despite these roles, LeVar seemed to fading from the public's memory.

Inspired by his mother's example, LeVar took on the job of hosting a new educational program for PBS called "Reading Rainbow" in 1983. The aim of the show was to encourage children aged 5 to 8 to experience the world of books and to continue reading through the summer vacations. The show was an immediate hit with kids, teachers, parents and the community as a whole. It became a staple of the PBS children's line-up and continued for 11 seasons. By the 1990s, it was airing 5 times per week on 330 PBS stations. It is still broadcast in reruns to this day.

It was in 1987 that LeVar would find himself returning to the status of "household name". He was cast in the role of Lieutenant Geordi LaForge in "Star Trek: The Next Generation", helmsman of the newly commissioned starship Enterprise. What really interested LeVar in the role, aside from it being on a new incarnation of Star Trek, was the fact that his character had been blind from birth. He was able to see the world around him by way of a VISOR (Visual Instrument and Sensory Organ Replacement), a prosthetic device running across his eyes which allows his brain to process electromagnetic and thermal imaging into visual images which allow him to see. He was fascinated by a character who had overcome a potentially limiting disability and turned it into an advantage that none of his other crewmates have.

In the second season of "Next Generation", LeVar's character was promoted to chief engineer of the ship. The move thrilled LeVar to no end because now he would be this show's "Scotty". In addition, he would get to spout off more techno-babble than any of the other cast mates (which by all accounts was just fine with them). The show not only gave him the chance to portray another African American character in a positive light, but it also afforded him the opportunity to direct television episodes.

For the first 6 seasons of the show, he observed keenly how the various directors he worked with approached their jobs. He saw what worked and what didn't; whose brought out better performances from the actors and how to communicate visions and intent. He took that knowledge and applied it to the episode called "Second Chances". It was a particularly satisfying moment for LeVar because he was able to direct America's first African American female astronaut, Dr. Mae Jamison. She had been a huge fan of both "Star Trek" and "Star Trek: The Next Generation" and wanted to play a small role in one episode.

When Next Generation ended its run in 1994, there was no pause for LeVar or any of the cast. Production began immediately for the first film based on the show called "Generations". The film was to serve as a transition between the original cast and the current one. When filming was complete, LeVar wanted to get back to directing episodes of the two continuing Star Trek series, namely "Star Trek: Deep Space Nine" and "Star Trek Voyager".

When he isn't acting or directing, LeVar is highly involved in promoting literacy among children. Even though "Reading Rainbow" had ceased production, he still works with various groups and programs who promote reading to children.

In his personal life, LeVar has been happily married to his wife, Stephanie, since October 3 1992. They met while LeVar was hosting "Reading Rainbow" and Stephanie was one of the make-up artist for the show. They have a daughter, Michaela Jean, who was born in 1995. LeVar also has a son, Ian, from a previous relationship, who was born in 1980. While he still works to promote literacy among children, he also helps his wife in her pursuits to help raise awareness for the treatments for infertility.