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S. Epatha Merkerson (1952)

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  Summary  

S. Epatha Merkerson is an American film, stage, and television actress. She has won a Golden Globe, Emmy Awards, Screen Actors Guild Awards, Obie Award and four NAACP Image Awards. She has also received two Tony Award nominations. She is best known for her role as NYPD Lieutenant Anita Van Buren from 1993 to 2010 on the long-running NBC police procedural drama series Law & Order. She appeared in 390 episodes of the series, more than any other cast member.

  Biography  

 early life
Merkerson, the youngest of five children, was born in Saginaw, Michigan, the daughter of Ann Merkerson, who at the time was the only female in the vehicles operation unit at the Detroit Post Office. Her father worked in a factory. Merkerson's parents separated in 1957.

Merkerson is often reticent about revealing what her first name really was . On the June 11, 2005 episode of NPR's Wait Wait... Don't Tell Me!, she jokingly claimed that the initial "S," "stands for 'Sweet' so many people have difficulty with Epatha, which is what I prefer to be called". She has legally changed her first name to S.

Merkerson graduated from Cooley High School in 1970. She earned a Bachelor of Fine Arts Degree from Wayne State University and began her New York theater career in 1978. She was conferred an Honorary Doctor of Humane Letters from Wayne State University in May 2009.

 career
Merkerson made her television debut as Reba the Mail Lady on Pee-wee's Playhouse. "It was one of those wild things where I went to audition. And I thought I was funny and the person I auditioned for didn't, and so I had blown the job and I guess weeks later they got new casting people," Merkerson said on the NPR program, Tell Me More. "I didn't know who Pee-wee Herman was, so if, you know, for fans of the show, if they watch like the first episode that I ever did, I think it was a big party and he just kept making me laugh because I had never seen the character before. And the director was angry and he was like how can we get through this scene? And I said I have to look at the plate. So the entire he's serving hors d'oeuvres, I'm looking at the plate, and we're still good buddies. He still, to this day, knows how to make me laugh like no one else. Paul Reubens". Merkerson has also appeared on The Cosby Show, among other series.

She appeared in the first-season Law & Order episode "Mushrooms," in which she portrayed the grief-stricken mother of an 11-month-old boy who is shot accidentally. Her performance impressed the producers enough to select Merkerson to replace Dann Florek as detective squad chief in the series' fourth season.

Merkerson was nominated for a Tony Award as Best Featured Actress in a Play for her performance as Berniece in August Wilson's Pulitzer Prize-winning play, The Piano Lesson and won an Obie Award in 1992 for her work in I'm Not Stupid. Her screen credits include Jacob's Ladder, Loose Cannons, She's Gotta Have It and in James Cameron's Terminator 2: Judgment Day, in which she played the terrified wife of Joe Morton. In 2006, she won Golden Globe, Emmy and Screen Actors Guild awards for her performance in the television movie Lackawanna Blues, her first starring role. In 2007, she starred on stage in Los Angeles in William Inge's Come Back, Little Sheba at the Kirk Douglas Theatre in the role made famous by Shirley Booth, and in January 2008 opened on Broadway in the production. For the revival of Come Back, Little Sheba, Merkerson earned her second Tony nomination.

In November 2007, Merkerson appeared in a TV commercial for Coricidin HBP. Merkerson also appears in a series of commercials for Uni-Ball pens, directed by Emmy nominee Brent Roske, and in an American Express/NBC Universal ad for the Shine the Light program, in which she speaks highly of a restaurant near her home in Harlem.

On April 1, 2010, it was confirmed that after 17 seasons, Merkerson would leave Law & Order at the end of the show's twentieth season. Her departure from Law & Order, which aired on May 24, 2010, was also the show's final episode. In total, Merkerson had appeared on the series for 17 consecutive seasons, longer than any other actor associated with the program.

 personal life
Merkerson was formerly married to Toussaint L. Jones. She lives in the Harlem section of New York City. Her brother, Barrie Merkerson, currently works as an attorney for the city of Detroit.

Merkerson is an outspoken advocate against smoking and for lung cancer research and awareness. When she guest-hosted on The View on March 2, 2007, she discussed her 23-year addiction to cigarettes, which ended in the early '90s after she woke up one morning unable to breathe. Until May 2007, she sat on the Board of Directors of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids.

She teaches acting at a NYC College.

For her role as Van Buren on Law & Order, she wore a wig. Her real hair is made up in short locks. Merkerson decided to wear a wig for the role to look more "professional".

In December 2008, Merkerson was sued for $222,908.40 by the Gersh Agency, a talent agency which claimed that they had an oral agreement with Merkerson to represent her at a rate of 10% commission.

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Whole or part of the information contained in this card come from the Wikipedia article "S. Epatha Merkerson", licensed under CC-BY-SA full list of contributors here.