The Untold Truth Of LeVar Burton

Whether you know him as Geordi La Forge from "Star Trek: The Next Generation," as Kunta Kinte from "Roots," the host of "Reading Rainbow," or simply as Lance Reddick's idol on "The Eric Andre Show," odds are that LeVar Burton has a big presence in your consciousness. He's become a true American icon, whether as the soothing voice of our childhoods or the fiery rage of a rebellious slave. It's no wonder, then, that over 200,000 fans signed a petition in hopes of having Burton replace the late Alex Trebek on "Jeopardy!," but more on that later.

In other words, LeVar Burton is beloved by pretty much everyone, and he's had a long and accomplished career that shows no sign of slowing down anytime soon. After all, as he explained to "Best Friends with Nicole Byer and Sasheer Zamata," if you're passionate about what you're doing, why should you retire? But there's a lot more to Burton than just being a consistent face in front of the camera or a voice behind a microphone; he's lived a pretty full life and has plenty of stories to tell.

There are a lot of fascinating tidbits worth sharing from Burton's decades-long career, many of which may surprise you. While we can't highlight all of the interesting aspects of the entertainer's life, here are a few stories to hold you over until his next appearance on screen.

LeVar Burton was born in Germany

He may be an American icon, but LeVar Burton was actually born way off on the other side of the Atlantic. His father, Levardis Robert Martyn Burton, was a photographer for the US Army Signal Corps. Like most military families, he and his wife, Erma Gene Burton, didn't stay in one place for long, so they were far from home when little LeVar was born. As part of the United States' postwar occupying force, the elder Burton was stationed in West Germany, and his son was born in the area's biggest military hospital, in the Rhineland village of Landstuhl.

"It wasn't always easy living on base," Burton revealed in a blog post in 2015. "We didn't have access to the most recent American movies, books, T.V. shows — all those pop-culture staples so important to schoolchildren. But that lack of access meant that the cultural staples we did have access to were devoured, treasured...and eventually bartered." Burton and the other kids his age would trade comic books regularly, which no doubt contributed to his love of sharing stories.

Even if the comics he read were unlike the tales he'd explore on "Reading Rainbow," they were immensely formative. "Years have passed since those mornings spent trading comics on base," he concluded. "But the memory is as strong as ever." If an adult Burton had told his younger self that he'd one day play some of these comic book heroes, he would've been delighted.

He wanted to be a priest

Many of LeVar Burton's performances are so memorable it can be hard to imagine a world without them. But that came very close to happening because Burton spent most of his youth planning to go into the Roman Catholic priesthood. In fact, he began studying for the vocation at St. Pius X Minor Seminary when he was only 13 years old.

When Andy Richter heard the news on his podcast, "The Three Questions with Andy Richter," he joked that the whole celibacy thing might've played a role in Burton's career change once his teenage hormones kicked in. Burton admitted that played a part in it, but he chalked up his decision more to a general crisis of faith.

He also said that his interest in certain aspects of the priesthood ended up leading him to acting. As he explained, "The Catholic mass, the liturgy itself is really theatrical. You know, the vestments, the raiments — what the priest wears — the old Latin mass, there was mystery and circumstance, for high ceremony, the incense, and candles — there's just a lot that I was drawn to in terms of the show biz! I was attracted to the play!" So when Burton was 17, he dropped out of the seminary to go into show biz full time.

Burton studied Alex Haley right before working with him on Roots

After leaving the seminary, Burton went to study acting at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles. He was only in his second year when he got his first big role, and one of the biggest of his whole career, as the star of Alex Haley's groundbreaking miniseries "Roots." Based on Haley's novel, the series follows the history of a Black American family from their abduction from the African country of the Gambia in the 18th century all the way through to the aftermath of the Civil War. Burton stars as the family's forebear, Kunta Kinte, in the first two episodes, delivering a classic performance that's still synonymous with Black power to this day.

At the time, young LeVar Burton didn't realize this role would make him a star. But he told CreativeLive that the signs were there when he first went to audition. "I'm a firm believer in the idea that everything happens for a reason, and that there are always signs, there are clues, right? My freshman year at USC, I did a term paper on Malcolm X, and 'The Autobiography of Malcolm X' is cowritten by Alex Haley. ... So when I first heard of Alex Haley in connection to 'Roots,' [I thought,] 'I know who he is!'" And thanks to Alex Haley, soon most of the country would know who LeVar Burton was.

He made a cameo with Cameo

"Roots" made LeVar Burton a star, but it took a while for him to begin reaping the benefits. There were many lean years between his appearance in the miniseries and his next high-profile parts in "Reading Rainbow" and "Star Trek: The Next Generation." More jobs began trickling in once "Reading Rainbow" debuted in 1983, and one of them gave Burton a role in a great but sadly short-lived pop phenomenon.

Cameo began life in 1974 when Juilliard-trained soul singer Larry Blackmon founded the New York City Players. However, their inspiration, the Ohio Players, didn't appreciate the tribute, so they changed their name to Cameo. The band honed the funk sound of earlier acts like the Players and Parliament for over a decade before finding success with their first major hit, "Word Up." Unfortunately, it was also their last, and while they followed it up with equally great singles like "Back and Forth" and "Candy," none of them got the same mainstream following.

Maybe that's because none of them had LeVar Burton. If you look closely at the music video for "Word Up," you might see a familiar face. The video begins with Cameo holed up and surrounded by the cops, with LeVar Burton as a trenchcoated police officer threatening them through a megaphone. You could be forgiven for missing him, though — the main focus is on Cameo, and Larry Blackmon's trademark red codpiece can be pretty distracting.

LeVar Burton got his role on Star Trek because he was such a huge fan

Long before he ever appeared on "Star Trek", LeVar Burton had been a lifelong fan of the series, especially thanks to the strides the show's creator, Gene Roddenberry, took in diverse casting. So he fanboyed right out in 1983 when he made the TV movie "Emergency Room" and discovered one of its producers, Robert H. Justman, had also worked on "Star Trek."

As he told CreativeLive, "Every day, I would find a reason to sit next to him and just pump him for stories about 'Star Trek'... And years later, he remembered my passion. ... When he was working with Gene Roddenberry at Paramount to launch 'The Next Generation,' they had this character, Geordi La Forge, and [Justman] remembered how passionate I was about 'Trek' and called me up and said, 'Would you be interested in coming in and seeing us about a 'Star Trek' series?'" Naturally, Burton had a hard time passing up an opportunity like this, but he did have one condition: "Is Gene Roddenberry involved?" Since he was, Burton took the part, and he stuck with the TV show for the next 11 years.

He had to develop a new style of acting to play Geordi La Forge

Burton's "Star Trek" character, Geordi La Forge, is the Enterprise's chief engineer. In Burton's words, he represented people with physical challenges, the socially awkward, and those who "relate more to inanimate objects than we do other human beings." And in the futuristic world of "Star Trek," that allowed him to build a close relationship with the ship's mechanical resident, Data. Expanding the original series' inclusive spirit with a disabled hero, Geordi was born blind and can only "see" (including the whole spectrum of invisible radiation) with the help of a high-tech visor (actually called a "VISOR," short for "Visual Instrument and Sensory Organ Replacement") connected directly to his optic nerve.

The device became one of "Star Trek's" most iconic images, but it wasn't without difficulties for Burton. He explained to CreativeLive, "There was a real gift of challenge in that role for me as an actor because I had come to really rely on my eyes, acting on film, as my go-to. It was my strong suit, it was the first tool in the bag that I would go to. Having my eyes covered ... really caused me to have to learn how to communicate without my eyes, so I know that the time I spent on "Star Trek" made a much better actor out of me."

Burton's visor was a major pain

LeVar Burton threw himself into his role as Geordi despite the problems posed by his trademark visor, which went far beyond the acting challenges. The device might've allowed Geordi to see, but it covered so much of Burton's eyes that it made him effectively blind. He told Alibi, "It was always very funny to me because when the actor puts the visor on, 85 to 90 percent of my vision was taken away, yet I'm playing a guy who sees more than everyone else around him. So that's just God's cruel little joke."

And that wasn't even the worst of it. The weighty metal visor needed some serious engineering to stay put on Burton's head. In fact, every time he began filming, he had to attach the big heavy thing to his temples with "a mechanism of flanges and screws." As you might expect, this meant poor Burton had a near-constant headache all through his long tenure on the show. Fortunately, someone on the crew seemed to have noticed what Burton was going through because the prop was phased out beginning with the movie First Contact, where Geordi started wearing implants directly within his eyes.

He popped up on Batman: The Animated Series

Burton showed his face in a number of memorable bit parts throughout his career, but there's one you may have missed — mainly because his face doesn't appear there at all. In 1992, Warner Brothers Animation premiered their innovative take on the Dark Knight with "Batman: The Animated Series", which is still the definitive version for many fans thanks to its psychological depth and unique visual style, courtesy of designer/producer Bruce Timm. It also had a deep bench of voice talent, including Mark Hamill's defining interpretation of the Joker, Adam West's return to the franchise as the Gray Ghost, and, of course, LeVar Burton.

In "The Worry Men," one of the Gotham glitterati returns from a trip to Central America with "worry men," traditional dolls that are supposed to take away your anxieties if you leave them under your pillow. She hands the dolls out to her party guests, with suspicious results when Gotham's elite citizens begin gathering up money and giving it to mysterious figures without knowing why.

One player in this mystery is Hayden Sloan, with the familiar voice of LeVar Burton, who gets to have some fun as the red-herring suspect — a securities executive who gets arrested for embezzlement when his clients' accounts start drying up. Sloan turns out to be innocent, though, as Batman discovers his old enemy the Mad Hatter is behind the thefts. Burton apparently had so much fun that he decided to stay in the studio to record some more lines, as he also has a cameo as one of the Hatter's henchmen.

He crossed continents to be on Reading Rainbow

No project has been more important to LeVar Burton than "Reading Rainbow." For 26 years, Burton went on PBS to teach millions of kids the love of reading. Every episode would encourage children to read along with Burton as he read through a picture book and then used the rest of the running time to further explore some subject that the story had covered. "Reading Rainbow" ran on almost no budget, and putting books on TV must've seemed like a losing bet to most actors ... but not Burton. If anything, he was even more excited to be on "Reading Rainbow" than he was to be on "Star Trek."

Producer Larry Lancit told Mental Floss that they were originally considering "Charles in Charge" star and conservative activist Scott Baio, but as Lancit explained, "I remember [writer] Lynne [Ganek] called us and said, 'You really need to see this guy. He'll be on the six o'clock news.'" And when Lancit saw Burton on TV, he was thoroughly impressed. Another producer, Cecily Truett, added, "Lynne called [LeVar Burton's manager] when LeVar was doing 'ABC's Wide World of Sports' on the Zimbabwe River." And according to Truett, the agent replied, "He's not even in the country, but he'll do it."

And the agent was right. Burton ran down to Buffalo, New York's local PBS affiliate, where he'd continue hosting "Reading Rainbow" for decades to come.

He broke Kickstarter's record

Unfortunately, some things are too good to last. With funds dwindling, "Reading Rainbow" filmed its final episode in 2006 and officially went off the air in 2009. But Burton wasn't done with "Reading Rainbow" just because "Reading Rainbow" was done with him.

He was inspired by an NPR piece that interviewed viewers who'd grown up with the show and didn't want their own kids to grow up without it, and he decided to make sure that would never happen. Burton bought the rights to the series and began gathering funds to create a new version for the internet generation. After many failures to get traditional revenue sources interested, Burton went to the then-new realm of crowdfunding with Kickstarter. This strategy paid off enormously, earning over $5 million, the most any campaign on the site had earned up to that point. All that money went into Skybrary, an app that gives kids access to online lessons, "video field trips," and a whole library of books to read, listen to, or interact with.

LeVar Burton is reading books to grown-ups

On "Reading Rainbow," LeVar Burton taught children to fall in love with reading. Sadly, many of us lose some of that passion as we move into adulthood, but Burton's not about to let us fall by the wayside. In 2017, Burton launched a new podcast, "LeVar Burton Reads," which delivers just what it promises in the name. Every week, Burton chooses from a selection of short stories from great literary and genre authors like Haruki Murakami, Ray Bradbury, and Toni Morrison, taking care to go beyond the accepted canon and to represent racial and gender diversity from around the world.

Burton's readings have taken on an added meaning during the 2020 coronavirus pandemic. Towards the beginning of the outbreak in April, he started a livestream on Twitter, calming the United States' frazzled nerves with his soothing voice and combining his usual adult fare on Fridays with both Wednesday shows for young adults and children's time on Mondays. Plus, several of his favorite writers got in on the act, with "Sandman" author Neil Gaiman volunteering the rights to his stories, inspiring other writers and publishers to join in.

LeVar Burton once tried to microwave a phone

It must be pretty cool to have someone like LeVar Burton for your father, but even the coolest dad can still be a total dad sometimes. During her time as a host for "Rooster Teeth" (which ended recently due to what she claims was a pretty horrific work environment), Burton's daughter, Mica, told a story about daddish cluelessness of epic proportions. 

"He was outside, and he was talking on his phone, and it got sweaty. My father, the genius, decides, 'I should put it in the microwave to dry it off!'" It went about as well as you'd expect, with his daughter explaining, "I vividly remember walking past him and going, 'Oh, hey, Dad, what are you microwa...' And before I could get the word 'microwaving' out of my mouth, our microwave exploded into, like, this glorious Roman candle and scorched the ceiling of our kitchen!" Obviously, Geordi's mechanical expertise didn't rub off on his actor in real life.

His voice appears on a DC Talk song

Anyone remember DC Talk? The Christian hip-hop trio from the 1990s consisted of TobyMac, Michael Tait of Newsboys fame, and Kevin Max Smith of Audio Adrenaline. Born in 1989 with the release of their first self-titled album, the group became a staple of the Christian rap scene. At one point, they were even deemed "the most popular overtly Christian act of all time." So what was LeVar Burton doing hanging out with these guys? Well, by all accounts he never did, though his voice was sampled on one of their tracks off their third album, "Free At Last."

The song "Time Is..." – which also features Stryper frontman Michael Sweet — holds off on Burton's vocals until the very end, and if you didn't know it was him, you might've missed it completely. After the music stops and the ninth track closes out, we hear a brief, "Woah, wait a minute..." and then it just ends. Where the clip comes from, we're not totally sure. It could easily be pulled from "Star Trek: The Next Generation" or an episode of "Reading Rainbow," but there's no mistaking that it's him.

Interestingly, DC Talk wasn't the only hip-hop staple Burton was somewhat involved with at the time. He also appears in the music video for Cameo's "Word Up," which is about as '80s as you can get. Burton appears as a police detective hoping to arrest Cameo but fails in his pursuit.

Burton played both DC and Marvel Comics superheroes

Superheroes are all the rage nowadays, it seems like every actor has been involved in the respective worlds of DC or Marvel Comics at some point down the line, and LeVar Burton is no exception. Fortunately for our favorite book-reading host, Burton played superheroes each time he stepped into the recording booth rather than supervillains, no doubt elating his younger self. 

In 2009, Burton was cast as none other than Jefferson Pierce, aka Black Lightning, for the direct-to-video animated feature "Superman/Batman: Public Enemies." The movie is a direct adaptation of the comic book story of the same name where Lex Luthor is the president of the United States, and unfortunately, Black Lightning is working for him. It's a bummer that Burton's character is something of a pawn in this flick, but he eventually turns it around in the end, helping the titular heroes. But Burton doesn't always play such a conflicted hero. 

In "Tales of Suspense," an episode of the children's animated series "The Super Hero Squad Show," Burton plays Marvel hero James "Rhodey" Rhodes, aka War Machine, as he teams up with Iron Man to battle Doctor Doom and a bunch of other baddies. Ironically, Iron Man even mentions "Reading Rainbow" during the episode, which pits the two heroes against one another. Apparently, Burton only plays superheroes that fight other superheroes, which seems a bit counterintuitive. Maybe that's why he hasn't tackled another comic book role since 2009.

He fooled Smosh fans everywhere

In the early 2000s, LeVar Burton decided that it was time to diversify his interests, and that meant tackling the still budding online world of YouTube. On April 1, 2009, Burton announced that he was now the proud owner of the Smosh brand which had become one of the most subscribed channels on the platform. But did you notice the date? This elaborate April Fool's joke pushed the boundaries of the platform's comedic prowess and the addition of Burton made it feel all more real, even if we all knew it was a prank.

"After so many years in showbusiness, I recognize that it's important to stay current, to freshen up my image now and again," Burton says in their fake announcement video. "Things are going to change just a little bit." The announcement is followed by clips that retroactively insert Burton into some of the channel's then-most-watched videos, including one where he raps about books. Additionally, the Smosh website underwent some changes too, hoping to make this joke last.

For a long time, the website allowed you to go back and view these changes even after the day had passed. The webpage was littered with fake posters for the channel's supposed new segments, including "Roots 2: Kunta's Revenge," "Smoshing Rainbow," "Smosh Trek," and even "The Many Hairstyles of LeVar Burton." No doubt, the actor had a hand in some of these jokes and played his part masterfully. Talk about a great April Fool's prank.

Burton no longer holds to any faith

Despite at one point wanting to pursue the ministry, LeVar Burton has seemingly turned his back on his Catholicism, and organized religion, altogether. On an early episode of "LeVar Burton Reads," the entertainer reads through Stephanie Powell Watts' "Unassigned Territory," a short story pulled from the collection "We Are Taking Only What We Need." The tale follows a young Jehovah's Witness as she spends an afternoon preaching to her neighbors while deciding what she wants to do with her life. Clearly, this story spoke to Burton, and he had some words to say afterward.

After being somewhat disappointed by the ending, he explains in closing how he eventually understood it after multiple re-reads. His thoughts continue as he muses about how our real-life heroes are often conflicted, leading into his own story. "I walked away from the seminary, I walked away from Catholicism," he said upon reflecting on the author's own spiritual journey. "I walked away from organized religion because I felt that there was more for me to explore in the world and that I could do that without adhering to one specific belief system or another."

As Burton doesn't talk about religion a great deal, many who knew about his Catholic past may have been shocked. While we may never know the full story behind Burton's de-conversion, the entertainer seems fairly content with where he is now, just listening to the stories of others to better make sense of life itself.

Burton credits his mother for his love of reading

After moving back to the United States, LeVar Burton's parents separated when he was still a boy, so he was raised by his mother, who was determined to give her son all the tools he needed to succeed in the harsh environment of segregation-era America. That meant taking his education seriously, and thus Burton rightfully credits his mother for teaching him the lifelong love of reading. Sure, the comic books of his youth likely contributed to that too, but it was his mother's influence that led to him sharing this love of reading with the younger generations, first through "Reading Rainbow" and later "LeVar Burton Reads."

"This is all my mother's fault," Burton admitted in an interview with Kickstarter. "My mother was an English teacher, and it was expected in her house that you read. She insisted upon it." But Mrs. Burton's insistence on reading wasn't the entertainer's only motivation. As it turns out, his mother sat and read to him consistently. "I just absorbed that example that reading is part of being human," he explained. "I grew up understanding the value of a relationship with the written word."

No doubt, many can credit their mothers for instilling in them passions that carry on through adulthood, but that doesn't always spark a lifelong advocacy for storytelling. No wonder Burton still reads to us to this day and has inspired many of us to do the same.

He's directed more Star Trek episodes than any other actor

It's no secret that LeVar Burton is arguably best known (aside from "Reading Rainbow" that is) for his work on "Star Trek." As a part of "The Next Generation" cast, Burton's role as Geordi La Forge is an iconic one that has expanded across two different series and three feature films. But though he plays one of the franchise's most beloved engineers, Burton had another prolific role within the franchise: director. After directing two episodes of "The Next Generation," Burton continued with the franchise behind the camera, going on to direct a total of 29 episodes of the "Star Trek" universe.

With 10 episodes of "Star Trek: Deep Space Nine," eight of "Star Trek: Voyager," and an additional nine of "Star Trek: Enterprise," Burton has directed more episodes of the franchise than any other "Star Trek" castmember. Coming in at a close second, with 28 episodes under his belt, is fellow "Next Generation" cast member Jonathan Frakes. Frakes also tackled episodes of "The Next Generation," "Deep Space Nine," and "Voyager," only to later direct episodes of "Picard," "Strange New Worlds," and "Discovery," with another episode in the pipeline.

Of course, if we're considering all things "Star Trek," Frakes actually takes the cake for most prolific actor-turned-director, having also directed two "Star Trek" features and a video game. But in terms of the sheer number of episodes directed, Burton still holds the title, even if it's not for long.

Burton doesn't just read for kids, he writes for them too

Did you know that LeVar Burton wrote a book of his own? Actually, he has written a few. The first, "Aftermath," is a science-fiction novel that was published in 1997. It told a futuristic story (set in 2012) about the first African-American President of the United States who was assassinated by a white extremist. The story isn't exactly a kid's book. In fact, it's most certainly for adults. But if you love Burton's work in the sci-fi genre, there's no doubt that "Aftermath" was written with you in mind.

Then, in 2020, Burton went back to his PBS storytelling roots. He co-wrote a "Reading Rainbow Original" with Susan Schaefer Bernardo titled "The Rhino Who Swallowed A Storm," a children's story that's about exactly what you'd expect. With beautiful illustrations by Courtenay Fletcher, Burton's second book was a success. Unsurprisingly, he celebrated his first children's book by spending time reading it to his target audience — and to many adults who grew up listening to him read from their television screens.

His third book came out only a year later. Titled "A Kids Book About Imagination," Burton's latest literary work encourages kids to explore their imaginations, using them for good in the process. Who knows if Burton will ever pen another novel or children's book in the future, but right now, he's done more than most.

He was once captured by pirates, well, on Community

LeVar Burton's surprise appearance on "Community" in the episode "Intermediate Documentary Filmmaking" was a shock to everyone. Hoping to exact revenge on his friends for ditching him, Pierce Hawthorne (Chevy Chase) hires LeVar Burton to come and spend a day with Troy Barnes (Donald Glover), who had always made it clear that he never wanted to meet his idol in person. "You can't disappoint a picture," Troy cried. Nevertheless, Burton remained at Troy's side throughout the episode. However, this wasn't the only time the former "Reading Rainbow" host would make his way to the show.

When Troy decides to leave to go on a year-long sailing adventure after Pierce's death, Burton returns in the episode "Geothermal Escapism" to join him. They soon embark, and neither of them returns to the series again. But, in the very next episode, it's revealed via a newscast that Burton and some other "non-celebrity" have been captured by pirates in the Gulf of Mexico, leaving their fates uncertain. Hopefully, they're alright. And with the news that Glover is set to return for the upcoming "Community" reunion movie, it's unlikely the two of them died at sea.

Interestingly enough, this isn't the first sitcom where Burton played a fictionalized version of himself. The actor also appeared in three episodes of "The Big Bang Theory," and though his role there wasn't as pivotal as his "Community" appearances, his presence was just as welcomed.

Burton has a park named after him

Not many people have entire parks named after them, especially not people who are still living, but LeVar Burton is a one-of-a-kind treasure who certainly deserves it. Having grown up in Sacramento, California, the city decided to award the entertainer and activist for his lifelong dedication to storytelling, and thus Richfield Park was renamed LeVar Burton Park in the summer of 2019. "I did not see this coming," Burton told KCRA, the local NBC affiliate, that day. "And to be acknowledged, and recognized, and embraced like this by my hometown... is really special."

That day, the city hosted an event at the newly renamed LeVar Burton Park where the actor gave an emotional speech, reflecting on the childhood years he spent in central California. "This is the neighborhood where I grew up," Burton said (via CBS News Sacramento), "[I lived] just down the street and around the corner." In addition to renaming the park after him, Burton also has a star on the city's own "Walk of Fame" and June 11th was officially deemed "LeVar Burton Day."

To say that this entertainer is loved by many is an understatement, and his impact on his local community has been profound. No doubt, Sacramento will always honor and cherish Burton as a member of their community, even as he's moved on to bigger things.

Burton sees his acting career as the natural progression of the black experience

One of the interesting aspects of LeVar Burton's career is where he started from and where he's since gone to. Having launched his acting career as a lead on the original "Roots" miniseries, Burton eventually became a pivotal character in one of the most beloved science-fiction franchises, a role he eventually revisited on the third season of "Star Trek: Picard." Of course, there are plenty of other roles in there. From superheroes and fugitives to Martin Luther King, Jr. himself, Burton's played it all, and he knows it.

"I know I'm here to tell stories," Burton told Trevor Noah in a 2021 interview on The Daily Show. "I see my life as a through-line from Kunta, at one end of the spectrum, and Georgi La Forge, the chief engineer of the Enterprise, at the other end of that spectrum, and LeVar, the 'Reading Rainbow' guy, is in the middle." Burton continued to explain that he's been able to represent the African-American experience in the United States from slavery all the way into the future, something he sees as an incredible honor.

It's hard to argue with Burton's claim here, he really has represented African-Americans in most of the distinct time periods from the 1700s to today (not to mention a potential future). Even his first novel touches on some of those ideas, reminding us that there are still stories that need to be told.

He's on the Board of Directors for the AIDS Research Alliance

In addition to his advocacy for storytelling, LeVar Burton is also a humanitarian, fighting in various ways to make our world a better place. In 2011, the actor became the national spokesperson for the AIDS Research Alliance, a group dedicated to making HIV treatable. This opened the door for him to get further involved, and only a year later, Burton joined the organization's Board of Directors, hoping to assist in the efforts of a cure in any way he could. 

"As someone in show business, I was very much aware of the AIDS epidemic," Burton explained in the official press release (via "So when Carolyn Carlburg explained the work of AIDS Research Alliance . . . I couldn't say no to joining the Board. I realized there was such a need." Though there still isn't a cure for these horrible diseases, we're likely another step closer in part due to the efforts of the AIDS Research Alliance.

In 2019, Burton was honored by the Inamori International Center for Ethics and Excellence at Case Western Reserve University for his artistic and humanitarian efforts. As such, he was granted the 2019 Inamori Ethics Prize, an award he was shocked to receive. "This is a very prestigious honor," Burton said (via The Daily). "As the first recipient from the field of the arts, I look forward to being able to accept the prize and thank the committee in person."

He wanted to host Jeopardy!, until he didn't

We mentioned it before, but those of you who wanted LeVar Burton to be the next host of "Jeopardy!" were no doubt disappointed when not even hundreds of thousands of signatures could get the actor to continue with the game show. After a brief stint as a guest host for the show, the game show eventually found its new hosts, but many, including Burton, hoped that their favorite "Reading Rainbow" star would be chosen as Alex Trebek's official replacement.

"I made it public that I wanted it for myself, that it made sense to me," Burton revealed on The Daily Show before explaining his changed perspective further. "They say, you know, be careful of what you wish for, because what I found out is that it wasn't the thing that I wanted after all." When Burton didn't get the job, he simply moved on, citing other opportunities that he wouldn't have gotten had he been chosen as the next host. As it turns out, it may have been the best thing for him as other game show hosting opportunities headed his way.

In 2023, it was announced that the CW was working on a new "Trivial Pursuit" game show, with Burton chosen as their leading man. It seems that the actor may have a chance to host a game show after all, one more tailored to his liking given that he's also an executive producer through LeVar Burton Entertainment. Let the games begin!

He was chosen as the Grand Marshal for the Pasadena Rose Parade

To say that LeVar Burton has become something of a pop culture icon would be a correct assessment of the man's stellar film and television career. Burton is an actor, an advocate, an avid reader, and an activist. There's little that Burton hasn't done at this point. So when it was announced in 2021 that none other than Burton himself would be the Grand Marshal of the 133rd Rose Parade in Pasadena, California, nobody was particularly surprised. Well, except for Burton himself.

"Tournament of Roses Parade and the Rose Bowl game to follow has been a part of our family for years and years," Burton said at the announcement ceremony (via NBCLA). "[My family is] over the moon, beyond thrilled to be a part of this amazing event." The theme of the 2022 Tournament of Roses event — a historical annual New Year's Day tradition in Pasadena — was "Dream, Believe, Achieve," and who better to embody those qualities, and inspire them in others, than LeVar Burton?

"I didn't even know what the process was, how they chose them, or how it happened," Burton's wife Stephanie Cozart Burton (who he's been married to since 1992) told Pasadena Star-News. "But the fact that he's going to be on that historic wall upstairs in the Grand Marshals room now — it's kind of cool."

Burton has been apart of three of the four Roots adaptations

When LeVar Burton first got his start in the entertainment business, it was his role as Kunta Kinte on the original "Roots" miniseries that got him recognized by audiences everywhere. The series, itself an adaptation of the novel "Roots: The Saga of An American Family" by Alex Haley, holds the record for the third highest-rated episode of television, which is no small feat. The first 1977 series was so successful, that a sequel, "Roots: The Next Generation," was immediately greenlit, premiering only two years later.

Unfortunately, despite his popularity, Burton wasn't invited back the second time around. Though Kunta is mentioned a few times, "The Next Generation" (as the title suggests) follows the character's descendants from the 1800s and into the 20th century. No wonder Burton wasn't brought back. But that wouldn't end the actor's tenure with the historic franchise. A decade later, Burton returned to his iconic role for "Roots: The Gift," a made-for-TV Christmas movie that brought back Kunta, as well as Louis Gossett Jr.'s Fiddler, taking place before the third episode of the original miniseries.

Then, in 2016, Burton returned again, this time as a new character entirely, for the History Channel remake of "Roots," which he co-executive produced. Malachi Kirby replaced Burton as Kunta for the reboot, but Burton still shone as Eprhaim in the first episode. No matter how the story is rebranded, it seems that Burton always wants to be involved.

He reprised his role as Kwame after 21 years

Because of his work elsewhere, it's easy to forget that LeVar Burton also voiced an iconic character from one of your favorite Saturday morning cartoons. Appearing weekly on "Captain Planet and the Planeteers," Burton voiced Kwame, the unofficial leader of the Planeteers from Africa who harnesses the power of Earth. Sure, the show got a bit preachy at times, but Captain Planet became something of a pop culture icon, just like Burton himself (who is infinitely less preachy).

Though the original series ran in the early 1990s, the show eventually spawned a sequel, "The New Adventures of Captain Planet," which ran a few more seasons until 1996. After that, Kwame and his friends were nowhere to be found, and Captain Planet remained unsummoned for years. That is, until 2017, when new heroes needed his power. In an episode of the Cartoon Network series "OK K.O.! Let's Be Heroes" (say that three times fast) titled "The Power Is Yours," Burton reprises his role as Kwame, alongside David Coburn, who likewise returns as Captain Planet.

In the episode, which features a much more modern art style, Kwame is the only Planeteer still actively fighting for the environment (which is really depressing when you think about it). After conscribing the "OK K.O.!" heroes to his cause, Kwame summons Captain Planet to help defeat one of their old foes, and the rest is animated history.

He directed a family Christmas movie

As a director, LeVar Burton might be best known for his extensive contributions to the "Star Trek" franchise, but in 2003, he released a family Christmas movie meant to warm our holiday hearts. Called "Blizzard," the movie features none other than Kevin Pollak, Whoopi Goldberg, and Christopher Plummer, and follows a young girl named Katie (Zoe Warner) as she deals with new changes in the big city. It's there that she meets Santa's newest flying (and talking) reindeer, Blizzard (Goldberg), and they soon become fast friends.

It shouldn't come as a surprise that Burton would make a Christmas movie for kids. After all, the "Reading Rainbow" star has always wanted to use stories to help children through tough times. With dozens of directing credits under his belt, including a Tiger Woods biopic, Burton certainly had enough experience to craft a special Christmas present for his viewers. The holiday feature won "Best of the Fest" at the Chicago International Children's Film Festival in 2004, and a Director's Guild of Canada award for "Outstanding Team Achievement in a Family Feature Film" that same year.

"This movie is about the greatest gift of all – the gift of selfless love," Burton said about "Blizzard" in an official statement (via Giffoni Film Festival). "It's about the power of friends and how important it is to get back up again when you fall down". Sounds like just the sort of message he'd convey.

He teaches storytelling in his own MasterClass

Along with being a powerful storyteller, an activist, and an avid reader, LeVar Burton has followed in his mother's footsteps and become a teacher, as well. In 2021, the entertainer became an educator upon launching his own MasterClass on "The Power of Storytelling." Featuring 13 different lessons (adding up to only two and a half hours), Burton shares the basics of storytelling and everything he's learned from his extensive career as an actor, filmmaker, and book reader.

"Human beings are natural storytellers," Burton says in the trailer for the MasterClass. "Storytelling is one of the primary building blocks of civilization. Everything that is important to us as a species has been contained in stories." What's amazing about Burton's time behind the MasterClass camera is that he teaches storytelling from a variety of different perspectives, using his time reading books to children, writing stories for adults, and directing and acting in a host of different sorts of projects as his basis for how we can better become storytellers.

"I come from a family of teachers and educators," Burton concludes. "So, it's my turn." After so many years of learning from and listening to LeVar Burton in a host of other mediums, it only makes sense that he would want to create a classroom of his own.