For '80s and '90s kids, LeVar Burton was a household name as the host of the PBS hit Reading Rainbow. However, it was his role as Geordi La Forge on Star Trek: The Next Generation that really blasted him to stardom.
Though his TV spots have been pretty limited to voice work and guest spots, Burton hasn't stopped working. In addition to continuing to write and direct, Burton has even launched an app and a podcast, meant to keep kids reading! Here are some more out-of-this world facts about our favorite chief engineer.
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He’s always been a reader,
Reading Rainbow wasn’t just a paycheck for Burton — he feels very strongly about getting kids to read. This is partly because of the role reading played in his life as a child.
“My mother was an English teacher, and it was expected in her house that you read,” he told Kickstarter. “As an avid reader, my mother always read in front of me when I was a child. I just absorbed that example that reading is part of being human. She always had several books going for her own enjoyment and entertainment, and I really believe that is, in a large measure, responsible. I grew up understanding the value of a relationship with the written word.”
He has a wide variety of favorite books.
Burton told Kickstarter that Captains Courageous by Rudyard Kipling played a big role in his love of literature, and as he got into high school he enjoyed Catcher in the Rye and To Kill a Mockingbird. The older Burton got, the more his tastes diversified and he started reading beat poetry and works by Tom Wolfe and Norman Mailer.
He was almost a priest.
Raised Catholic, Burton joined St. Pius X Minor Seminary in Galt, California, when he was 13. However, during his time in seminary, he started reading the work of multiple philosophers and begun to believe there was more than just Catholic dogma with truth to it. He left the seminary and started studying drama at the University of Southern California.
Burton nailed his first audition.
While a lot of actors struggle for many years before hitting the big time, Burton nailed his first acting audition and scored the role of Kunta Kinte on ABC’s epic Roots miniseries in 1977. After that, he played guest roles on a variety of shows, like The Love Boat and Murder, She Wrote before getting the part of Geordi La Forge.
Image: Warner Bros. Television
Gene Roddenberry sought out Burton.
Rather than auditioning for the role of La Forge, Star Trek creator Roddenberry specifically approached Burton to offer him the role. He was already a well-known actor for his roles on Roots and Reading Rainbow — in fact, he was better known in the U.S. than Patrick Stewart.
He’s an accomplished director.
In addition to directing multiple Trek episodes (including the first episode that featured a real-life astronaut) Burton has directed episodes of the TV shows, Charmed, JAG, Las Vegas, Soul Food: The Series, Perception, NCIS: New Orleans and the miniseries Miracle Boys. When it comes to movies, he’s directed the documentary The Tiger Woods Story, Disney Channel movie Smart House, and the theatrical film, Blizzard. He’s directed more Star Trek episodes than any other Trek actor.
Image: Knightscove Entertainment
Burton writes, too.
Not only is he a champion for children’s literacy, made apparent by his contributions to Reading Rainbow, as well as his own Reading Rainbow app, he writes his own books, as well. He wrote two children’s books, Aftermath in 1997 and The Rhino Who Swallowed the Storm in 2014.
Image: Reading Rainbow
He’s won plenty of awards.
Burton has 12 Emmy Awards, a Grammy Award and five NAACP Awards under his belt, and got his star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 1990.