- Born: February 16, 1957
- Biggest Franchise: Star Trek
- Best Character: Georgie LaForge
You probably know LeVar Burton from one of three places. He is well aware of this, as he has summed these up in his Twitter profile: Kunta, Geordi, Reading Rainbow Guy. Whether you first met him in his breakout role in the Roots miniseries as Kunta Kinte, on Star Trek: The Next Generation as Geordi La Forge, or Reading Rainbow as the guy who told you stories, he’s been around for a while.
Even if you haven’t seen him acting recently, he’s still around and finding new projects to work on. There are game shows in the works and he even had a stint on Jeopardy!
LEVAR BURTON RETURNED TO STAR TREK AS GEORDI LA FORGE IN PICARD SEASON 3
LeVar Burton had been hoping to appear in at least one episode of Season 2 of Picard. “I’ve suggested to the producers that we find Geordi in a position where he’s teaching, passing his knowledge on to other people,” said LeVar Burton. “We’ll see. [Alex Kurtzmann] and the folks in charge are doing an amazing job, when they call, whatever it is they want me to do, I’m pretty sure it’s gonna be spectacular.”
That didn’t come to pass, but it is now going to happen for Picard Season 3. He reprised his character from Next Generation, and Burton isn’t the only one who came back into the mix.
Picard has, predictably, been something of a reunion for this series with Whoopi Goldberg and John de Lancie returning as Guinan and Q, respectively. Now, Burton was back, along with Michael Dorn, Jonathan Frakes, Brent Spiner (again), and Gates McFadden.
Picard’s showrunner, Terry Matalas, was excited about the announcement, saying to Deadline, “I remember watching the premiere of Star Trek: The Next Generation almost 34 years ago with my father like it was yesterday. It was the spark that ignited my love for science fiction,” said Matalas, who is also an executive producer on the series. “So, it’s most fitting that the story of Jean-Luc Picard ends honoring the beginning, with his dearest and most loyal friends from the U.S.S. Enterprise. It would be an understatement to say that giving these characters a proper send-off is an honor. The entire Star Trek: Picard team and I can’t wait for fans to experience this final, high-stakes, starship-bound adventure in season three!”
LeVar Burton, though, called the final season a “love poem” to those who followed The Next Generation and also gave a hint as to what is in store for Geordi La Forge. (SPOILER ALERT)
“It was a lot of fun on so many levels. I also get to work with my kid: my daughter, Mica, plays one of Geordi’s two daughters,” Burton revealed via Trekmovie.com. “So the whole storyline really is about the next generation of The Next Generation in many respects.”
LeVar Burton also said that he is now at peace with where the character is at and if this is the last fans see of Geordi, he is ready to finally say goodbye to a wonderful character.
“If I never put a spacesuit on again, I’m good. I feel like I got to put a period at the end of this sentence and close the book. Now if the book opens again, far it be from me to say no! But with all things being equal, I can honestly say — hand on my heart — if I never play Geordi for another moment in my life, I’m good.”
While this return for LeVar Burton to Star Trek is exciting, and frankly a long time coming, it comes in an epic career for the actor and personality.
LEVAR BURTON STARS IN ROOTS
While Kunta Kinte wasn’t LeVar Burton’s first role, it was his breakthrough moment in the industry. Based on the novel by Alex Haley, Roots was a miniseries released by ABC in 1977. The story takes place over generations, but Kunta Kinte is the most memorable character from the classic.
While Roots may not be as well known today as it was in 1977, an overview of cinema starring Black characters would be incomplete without mentioning this series and Burton’s role.
The series was nominated for 37 Emmy Awards and won nine of them. LeVar Burton himself was nominated in the Emmy category of Outstanding Lead Actor for a Single Appearance in a Drama or Comedy Series.
HE STARS ON READING RAINBOW
After Roots, LeVar Burton took on several roles on television, but it wasn’t until 1983 that he picked up his next big job: the reading guy on Reading Rainbow for PBS. He would host the show, as well as become an executive producer, over the 23 seasons of the series.
Reading Rainbow was a PBS series that encouraged children to read. It did this through covering a topic from a children’s book and would often visit locations, giving kids more information about the stories. He would also recommend several books for children to look for at their local libraries.
LEVAR BURTON IS ON STAR TREK
While he continued working on Reading Rainbow, LeVar Burton was still picking up roles as an actor on television shows and movies. He seemed to take the approach that staying busy was best for his career, which is often the case.
In 1986, Gene Roddenberry approached LeVar Burton about joining the cast of his upcoming series, Star Trek: The Next Generation. He was specifically approached for the role of Geordi La Forge. At the time, LeVar Burton was a more well-known name than Patrick Stewart, the lead on the show, and there was a lot of speculation about his character.
As Star Trek fans will be glad to tell you, Geordi La Forge rises in the ranks throughout his time on board the USS Enterprise. He starts out as helmsman, becomes the chief engineer by season 2, and eventually becomes Lt. Commander Geordi La Forge.
The television series aired from 1987 to 1994. Even after it was over, LeVar Burton took up the role of La Forge several times more in the movies Star Trek: Generations, Star Trek: First Contact, Star Trek: Insurrection, and Star Trek: Nemesis.
While working on Star Trek, LeVar Burton saw another opportunity for expanding his career and took up directing.
LEVAR BURTON HAS A NUMBER OF DIRECTORIAL CREDITS
When LeVar Burton becomes involved in something, he sees opportunities for growth and business everywhere. He’s not only an actor. When he joined Reading Rainbow, he worked to become an executive producer. When he saw the opportunity to begin directing, he took it. And no matter how much steady success he had in long-term roles on Reading Rainbow or Star Trek: The Next Generation, he continued picking up small acting parts in other television series. This diversity in his career kept him working.
He directed two episodes of Star Trek: The Next Generation, and picked up stray episodes on a variety of shows like Charmed and JAG. He also took on about 10 episodes each for Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, Star Trek: Voyager, and Star Trek: Enterprise.
In 2003, he directed the movie Blizzard, which received an award at the Chicago International Children’s Film Festival.
More recently, LeVar Burton’s work as a director has been on NCIS: New Orleans, though that ended when the 2020 lockdowns began.
LEVAR BURTON DIDN’T WORK DURING THE PANDEMIC
Though LeVar Burton had continued to stay characteristically busy with directing and speaking engagements, these were canceled at the start of 2020 when lockdowns began. He told Variety, “Like everybody right now, I’m currently unemployed.” This didn’t sit well with him.
He still had some work he had been doing with Reading Rainbow. When Reading Rainbow ended in 2006, LeVar Burton and his business partner Mark Wolfe purchased the global rights to the brand. They then formed a media company for children called RRKIDZ.
In 2012, they used this company to release a Reading Rainbow app for the iPad that took off. Interest in the brand stayed alive and well.
Finding himself unemployed, LeVar Burton was spending more time online. He saw musicians doing live streams. Eventually, he brought up the idea of reading stories live on Twitter. Soon, Twitter got involved to make sure he was comfortable with the technology. Author Neil Gaiman gave LeVar Burton permission to read any of his stories. From there, other authors also volunteered many of their works.
Soon, the LeVar Burton Podcast was born. There, Burton reads stories from well-known authors to the adults who grew up listening to him tell them stories.
About his decision, he told Variety, “It was recognizing the moment and stepping into it. I thought, ‘I could do that.’ This is something I love doing — reading aloud. That’s what I am, I’m a storyteller. I believe stories have the power to bring us together. Clearly there is a need.”
HE HOSTED JEOPARDY!
After the passing of longtime host Alex Trebek, Jeopardy! tried out a number of guest hosts to audition for the gig. Some seemed to be more publicity stunts than anything else, but a few were legit contenders. LeVar Burton got his chance last summer for a week in July. He was an instant fan hit, with many wanting him to return to the gig full-time.
But then controversy happened, though not around Burton himself. The show ultimately chose Mike Richards to replace Trebek. That lasted about 30 seconds, with Richards becoming embroiled in controversy around previous comments and actions he had made.
At this point, fans lobbied to have LeVar Burton come back to the role, at least in the interim. But Burton, after having gone through it once, had no desire to actually get back into the gig. In an interview with Trevor Noah, Burton said, “The crazy thing is that when you set your sights on something…they say be careful of what you wish for, because what I found out is that it wasn’t the thing that I wanted after all…” He went on to explain that he was also disappointed when he wasn’t chosen for the full-time gig, but afterward, even in lieu of the news and the reopening of the position, he was ready to move on.
LEVAR BURTON WILL HOST TRIVIAL PURSUIT
Thought Jeopardy! didn’t work out, there is another game show in the works for LeVar Burton. That’s because he’s now signed on to host an adaptation of Trivial Pursuit. eOne and Hasbro have partnered to bring the popular trivia board game to life and Burton is going to lead the effort. It seems like the perfect pivot for the iconic actor. And if Jeopardy! wasn’t in the cards, this really seems like the next best thing.
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