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S. Epatha Merkerson

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

S. Epatha Merkerson
Merkerson in 2017
Sharon Epatha Merkerson

(1952-11-28) November 28, 1952 (age 67)
Saginaw, Michigan, United States
Alma materWayne State University (BFA)
Years active1976–present
Toussaint L. Jones
(m. 1994; div. 2006)

Sharon Epatha Merkerson (/iˈpθə/; born November 28, 1952)[1] is an American film, stage, and television actress. She has received numerous high-profile accolades for her work, including an Emmy Award, a Golden Globe Award, a Screen Actors Guild Award, four NAACP Image Awards, two Obie Awards and two Tony Award nominations. Merkerson is also the recipient of 4 honorary doctorate degrees. She is best known for her award-winning portrayal of Lieutenant Anita Van Buren on the NBC police procedural drama series Law & Order, a role she played from 1993 to 2010.[2] She appeared in 395 episodes of the series.[3]

In 2012, Merkerson became the host of Find Our Missing, a reality-reenactment series on TV One which profiles missing people of color.[4]

In 2015, she was cast as Sharon Goodwin, Chief of Medical Services of the fictional Gaffney Chicago Medical Center Hospital on the NBC medical drama Chicago Med.

Early life

Merkerson was born in Saginaw, Michigan.[5][6][7] Her parents separated when she was five.[7] One of five children raised by a single mother who worked for the United States Postal Service, Merkerson grew up in what she recalled to be a majority Euro-American neighborhood in Detroit.[5][6]

During a segment on the January 31, 2012 episode of The Wendy Williams Show, when questioned about the origin of her name, Merkerson shared that "Epatha" was the name of "a grade-school teacher who was influential in keeping [her father] in school".[3] She further went on to clarify that she prefers to be addressed as "Epatha" as opposed to "S. Epatha".[3]

Merkerson graduated from Cooley High School in 1970. Initially attending Eastern Michigan University as a dance major and later transferring to Indiana University Bloomington, Merkerson completed her Bachelor of Fine Arts in theatre at Wayne State University in 1976.[7][6] She was conferred an Honorary Doctor of Humane Letters from Wayne State University in May 2009[8] and received the same distinction from the University of Maryland Eastern Shore in 2012, Montclair State University in 2013 and the University of Pittsburgh in 2017.


In 1978, Merkerson moved to Albany, New York to join a theater company. She later moved to New York City.[7]

Merkerson made her television debut as Reba the Mail Lady on Pee-wee's Playhouse. Merkerson has also appeared on The Cosby Show, among other series.[8]

She first appeared in the NBC police procedural drama Law & Order in Season 1: Episode 17, titled "Mushrooms", as 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, making her one of the few actors to secure a recurring role after an initial single appearance on the show.

Merkerson's star began to rise after she assumed the lead role in the one-woman play, Lady Day at Emerson's Bar and Grill. That was followed by a Tony Award nomination as Best Featured Actress in a Play for her performance as Berniece in August Wilson's Pulitzer Prize–winning play The Piano Lesson. Merkerson won an Obie Award in 1992 for her work in I'm Not Stupid.[8] Her screen credits include Jacob's Ladder, Loose Cannons, She's Gotta Have It, James Cameron's Terminator 2: Judgment Day; and "Navy Seals". In 2006, she won a Golden Globe Award, an Emmy Award and a Screen Actors Guild award for her performance in the HBO film Lackawanna Blues. In 2007, she starred as Lola Delaney in the Los Angeles stage production of William Inge's Come Back, Little Sheba, playing the role made famous by Shirley Booth. In January 2008 the production opened a successful run on Broadway and earned Merkerson her second Tony nomination.

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.[2] Her departure from Law & Order, which aired on May 24, 2010, was also the show's final episode. In total, Merkerson appeared on the series for 17 consecutive seasons - 395 episodes — which was more than any other actor associated with the program.[9]

In 2012, Merkerson became the host of the show Find Our Missing which highlights the search for missing people of color. It is designed to put names and faces to people of color who have disappeared without a trace. Each episode tells the story of the missing person or persons, beginning with the day they vanished, the frantic searches by loved ones and the investigations into their disappearances. Find Our Missing provides insight into these victims’ lives: their hopes and dreams, what makes them tick and how they have touched those around them — from the people who knew them best.

Merkerson also appeared in Steven Spielberg's 2012 film Lincoln as Lydia Hamilton Smith, housekeeper to Tommy Lee Jones's character, Congressman Thaddeus Stevens.

In 2014, Merkerson appeared in the Primary Stages production of While I Yet Live, which was written by Tony Award winner Billy Porter.

In 2015 Merkerson joined the cast of NBC medical drama Chicago Med as Sharon Goodwin, Chief of Medical Services. The series was conceived and written by Law and Order creator Dick Wolf, along with Matt Olmstead, Derek Haas and Michael Brandt.[10]

In 2014 Merkerson became a spokesperson for Merck America’s Diabetes Challenge, to increase type 2 diabetes awareness among African Americans.

Personal life

Merkerson appeared in Season 5, Episode 5 of Dr. Henry Louis Gates Finding Your Roots on February 5, 2019, in which he revealed that she was a descendant of Isaac Hawkins and eight others of the 272 enslaved people who were sold in the 1838 Jesuit slave sale by Jesuit priests who owned the plantations on which the enslaved people tilled tobacco; proceeds from the sale were used to pay off the debts of the Jesuit-operated Georgetown College (now Georgetown University).[11]

Merkerson is an outspoken advocate against smoking and for lung cancer research and awareness.

From 1994 to 2006, Merkerson was married to Toussaint L. Jones.[7]



Year Title Role Notes
1986 She's Gotta Have It Doctor Jamison
1990 Loose Cannons Rachel
1990 Jacob's Ladder Elsa
1990 Navy Seals Jolena
1991 Terminator 2: Judgment Day Tarissa Dyson
1999 Random Hearts Nea
2001 The Rising Place Lessie Watson
2003 Radio Maggie
2004 Jersey Girl Doctor
2006 Black Snake Moan Angela
2007 Slipstream Bonnie
2009 The Six Wives of Henry Lefay Effa
2009 Mother and Child Ada
2012 Find Our Missing Herself
2012 Lincoln Lydia Smith
2013 Tyler Perry Presents Peeples Daphne Peeples
2015 The Challenger Jada
2016 Year by the Sea Liz


Year Title Role Notes
1986–1989 Pee-wee's Playhouse Reba the Mail Woman 16 episodes
1988 The Cosby Show Book Club Member #5 Episode: "Bookworm"
1989 CBS Summer Playhouse Jimmie Episode: "Elysian Fields"
1990 Equal Justice Mrs. Walters Episode: "Pilot"
1991 Law & Order Denise Winters Episode: "Mushrooms"
1992 Mann & Machine Capt. Margaret Claghorn 9 episodes
1992–1993 Here and Now Ms. St. Marth 12 episodes
1993–2010 Law & Order Anita Van Buren 388 episodes
NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Drama Series (2006, 2010–11)
Nominated—NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Actress in a Drama Series (1997–99, 2001)
Nominated—NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Drama Series (2007–09)
Nominated—Screen Actors Guild Award for Outstanding Performance by an Ensemble in a Drama Series (1997–2002, 2004)
1994 A Place for Annie Alice Television movie
1995 A Mother's Prayer Ruby Television movie
1998 Exiled Anita Van Buren Television movie
2000 Frasier Dr. McCaskill Episode: "Dark Side of the Moon"
2001 Art:21 Herself Episode: "Spirituality"
2001 A Girl Thing Lani Television movie
2002 Law & Order: Criminal Intent Anita Van Buren Episode: "Badge"
2005 Law & Order: Trial by Jury Anita Van Buren Episode: "Skeleton"
2005 Lackawanna Blues Rachel "Nanny" Crosby Television movie
Golden Globe Award for Best Actress – Miniseries or Television Film
Gracie Allen Award for Outstanding Female Lead in a Miniseries
NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Actress in a Television Movie, Mini-Series or Dramatic Special
Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Miniseries or a Movie
Prism Award for Performance in a Television Movie or Miniseries
Screen Actors Guild Award for Outstanding Performance by a Female Actor in a Miniseries or Television Movie
Nominated—Independent Spirit Award for Best Female Lead
Nominated—Satellite Award for Best Actress – Miniseries or Television Film
2007 The Closer Dr. Rebecca Dioli 3 episodes
2007 Girl, Positive Ariel Winters Television movie
Nominated—NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Actress in a Television Movie, Mini-Series or Dramatic Special
2012 Drop Dead Diva Judge Hiller Episode: "Lady Parts"
2013 The Good Wife Judge Melanie Ellis Episode: "Going for the Gold"
2013 Deception Beverly 3 episodes
2014 The Gabby Douglas Story Miss Caroline Television movie
2015 Being Mary Jane Mark's mother Episode: "Freedom"
2015–present Chicago Fire Sharon Goodwin 5 episodes
Chicago Med Main
2016–present Chicago P.D. 5 episodes

Awards and nominations



  1. ^ "S. Epatha Merkerson" in 'Come Back, Little Sheba'". The Leonard Lopate Show, February 22, 2008. WNYC, New York. Elapsed time approx. 15:50. Retrieved 2008-02-23 Archived February 25, 2008, at the Wayback Machine
  2. ^ a b "Exclusive: S. Epatha Merkerson exits 'Law & Order'". Entertainment Weekly. Archived from the original on April 4, 2010. Retrieved November 20, 2019.
  3. ^ a b c "Interview with S. Epatha Merkerson". The Wendy Williams Show. Archived from the original on February 26, 2012. Retrieved January 31, 2012.
  4. ^ Labbé-DeBose, Theola (January 18, 2012). "TV One's 'Find Our Missing' highlight African Americans who vanished". The Washington Post. Retrieved May 28, 2012.
  5. ^ a b Fletcher, Sharon Melson, "S. Epatha Merkerson", Contemporary Black Biography, Gale, retrieved September 14, 2018
  6. ^ a b c "S. Epatha Merkerson". TV Guide. Retrieved September 14, 2018.
  7. ^ a b c d e "S. Epatha Merkerson". A&E Networks. Retrieved September 14, 2018.
  8. ^ a b c Stated in interview on Inside the Actors Studio
  9. ^ "Closing the Case With Law & Order's S. Epatha Merkerson", Retrieved January 31, 2012
  10. ^ Andreeva, Nellie. "Laurie Holden Cast In NBC's 'Chicago Med'". Deadline. Retrieved March 11, 2015.
  11. ^ "PBS' Finding Your Roots Shares History of the GU272", Georgetown Voice

External links

This page was last edited on 12 May 2020, at 11:40
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