Born: February 16, 1957
Birthplace: Landstuhl, Rhineland-Palatinate, West Germany
Zodiac Sign: Aquarius
Levardis Robert Martyn Burton Jr. is an American actor, director, and children's television host. He is known for his roles as Kunta Kinte in the ABC miniseries Roots (1977), Lt. Commander Geordi La Forge in Star Trek: The Next Generation (1987–1994), and as host of the PBS Kids educational television series Reading Rainbow for more than 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, he was honored for his achievements in television with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
Burton was chosen as the Grand Marshal of the 2022 Rose Parade in Pasadena, California, on October 5, 2021. He presided over the parade and the afternoon Rose Bowl Game on January 1, 2022.
Burton made his acting debut in 1976 with Almos' a Man, a film based on the Richard Wright short story "The Man Who Was Almost a Man," in which he stars alongside Madge Sinclair.
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.
Burton was the host and executive producer of Reading Rainbow starting in 1983 for PBS. The series ran for 23 seasons.
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 more than $5 million, reaching triple its goal in only three days.
In 2017, 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.
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 also portrayed La Forge in the subsequent feature films based on Star Trek: The Next Generation, from Star Trek Generations (1994) to Star Trek: Nemesis (2002).
He 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.