LeVar Burton Reflects on 'Roots' and 'Star Trek: Next Generation' Anniversaries (Exclusive)
By Miguel A. Melendez
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LeVar Burton's turning 2022 into the Year of LeVar Burton. He kicked off the New Year as the Rose Parade's Grand Marshal, but that celebratory occasion was only the beginning. He still has three momentous milestones to celebrate this year, involving two iconic shows that etched his name in Hollywood lore and, perhaps most importantly, his loving wife.
The 64-year-old actor, host and director sat down with ET's Kevin Frazier and they discussed the upcoming 45th anniversary of the first episode of the miniseries, Roots, the 35th anniversary of Star Trek: Next Generation, and his 30th wedding anniversary.
Burton, who also guest-hosted Jeopardy! last summer, traveled down memory lane while reminiscing about Roots premiering on Jan. 23, 1977. Burton said he remembers watching episode one in Los Angeles before joining his family in Sacramento, California, for episode two. He recalls being recognized in a supermarket the morning before episode three was set to air.
Sunday marks the 45th anniversary since the Emmy and Peabody award-winning miniseries hit the air, and Burton looked back on the show's significance decades after playing Kunta Kinte, a character in Alex Haley's Pulitzer Prize-winning novel by the show's same name. Kinte is based on a real-life man captured into slavery and sold upon arrival to America.
"I think the lasting legacy of Roots is that it was another moment in American history where we were educated about ourselves in a way that we had not been," Burton tells ET. "It elevated our awareness of everyone, and it exposed us to an aspect of ourselves in terms of a rich culture that stems from Africa. It highlighted the value, the benefit that Black people have brought to this nation. It also really told the story, for the first time, of the struggle that we have had establishing ourselves and owning a sense of belonging without resistance."
The miniseries, airing over eight consecutive nights on ABC, would go on to earn 37 Emmy nominations. The miniseries would win nine. Burton's breakthrough role earned him a nomination for Outstanding Lead Actor for a Single Performance in a Drama or Comedy Series.
Burton would go on to establish himself as a household name, and earned more stardom as the host and executive producer for the PBS show Reading Rainbow. He would, once again, prove he's a driving force after playing the sci-fi character Geordi La Forge, complete with his trademark VISOR, in Star Trek: Next Generation. September marks the 35th anniversary since the show aired. And looking back on his role, Burton says he's cognizant of the fact the franchise resonates with fans around the world, but for him it starts and ends with the relationships he fostered on the iconic show.
"What I treasure the most is the relationships," Burton said. "That group of people ... we love each other genuinely. We are still an active part of one another's lives, and that's the gift that keeps on giving. People from all over the world really do love this franchise, but for me it's about the relationships. It's about how my life has been immeasurably enhanced by knowing and associating with these people for 35 years."
As luck would have it, Burton, who is directing Sunday's episode of NCIS: Hawaii on CBS, will put a ribbon on his anniversary celebrations with his own 30th wedding anniversary. He married Stephanie Cozart on Oct. 3, 1992 (they share two children), and Burton told ET he's got something special up his sleeve -- they'll be renewing their vows.
"This is a really, really good year for Stephanie and I to renew our vows," Burton announced. "We are at a place in our lives and our relationship where the spirit of celebration is very much alive. In our relationship, we've come through a lot as a couple, as a family, as individuals. And we're at a place in our lives where we're good. We're grateful for what we've been able to build over these last 30 years."