Born: November 28, 1952
Birthplace: Saginaw, Michigan, United States
Sharon Epatha Merkerson (/iˈpeɪθə/; (born November 28, 1952), 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. She appeared in 395 episodes of the series—more than any other cast member.
In 2012, Merkerson became the host of Find Our Missing, a reality-reenactment series on TV One which profiles missing people of color.
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.Merkerson was born in Saginaw, Michigan. Her parents separated when she was five. One of five children raised by a single mother who worked for the United States Postal Service, Merkerson grew up in a what she recalled to be a majority-white neighborhood in Detroit.
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 in school." She further went on to clarify that she prefers to be addressed as "Epatha" as opposed to "S. Epatha.".
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. She was conferred an Honorary Doctor of Humane Letters from Wayne State University in May 2009 and received the same distinction from the University of Maryland Eastern Shore in 2012; Montclair State University in 2013 and 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.
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.
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. 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. 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.
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.
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.
In 2014 Merkerson became a spokesperson for Merck America’s Diabetes Challenge, to increase type 2 diabetes awareness among African Americans.
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.
|1986||She's Gotta Have It||Doctor Jamison|
|1991||Terminator 2: Judgment Day||Tarissa Dyson|
|2001||The Rising Place||Lessie Watson|
|2006||Black Snake Moan||Angela|
|2009||The Six Wives of Henry Lefay||Effa|
|2009||Mother and Child||Ada|
|2012||Find Our Missing||Herself|
|2013||Tyler Perry Presents Peeples||Daphne Peeples|
|2016||Year by the Sea||Liz|
|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
Nominated—NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Actress in a Drama Series
Nominated—NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Drama Series
Nominated—Screen Actors Guild Award for Outstanding Performance by an Ensemble in a Drama Series
|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||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"|
|2014||The Gabby Douglas Story||Miss Caroline||Television movie|
|2015||Being Mary Jane||Mark's mother||Episode: "Freedom"|
|2015-Present||Chicago Fire||Sharon Goodwin||Episode: "I Am the Apocalypse"|
|2016-Present||Chicago P.D.||3 episodes|
S. Epatha Merkerson supports the following charitable causes: Cancer, Smoking & Smoking-Related Illnesses.