Kate Burton
Burton in 2014
Katherine Burton

(1957-09-10) September 10, 1957 (age 66)
Geneva, Switzerland
EducationBrown University (BA)
Yale University (MFA)
Years active1982–present
(m. 1985)

Katherine Burton (born September 10, 1957)[1][2] is a Welsh actress, the daughter of actors Richard Burton and Sybil Christopher. On television, Burton received critical acclaim as Ellis Grey in the Shonda Rhimes drama series Grey's Anatomy, and as Vice President Sally Langston on Scandal.[3] She has been nominated for three Primetime Emmy Awards and three Tony Awards.[4]

Early life

Burton was born in Geneva, Switzerland, the daughter of Welsh parents, producer Sybil Burton (née Williams) and actor Richard Burton.[5] She was thus the stepdaughter of Elizabeth Taylor and of Sybil's second husband Jordan Christopher, both actors. Burton earned a bachelor's degree in Russian Studies and European History from Brown University in 1979, where she was on the board of Production Workshop, one of the university's student theater groups, and a master's degree from Yale School of Drama in 1982. Brown awarded Burton an honorary doctorate in 2007.[6][7]


Stage work

Burton's first notable role on Broadway was in a 1982 production of the Noël Coward play Present Laughter directed by George C. Scott. The following year, she appeared in the Broadway musical Doonesbury, playing J.J. Burton also appeared as Alice in Eva Le Gallienne's Alice in Wonderland on Broadway, produced by The Mirror Theater Ltd's Sabra Jones. Several key roles followed, including roles in Wendy Wasserstein's An American Daughter and Martin McDonagh's The Beauty Queen of Leenane.[8][9]

In 2002, she received Tony Award nominations in separate performance categories: Best Actress in a Play, for her portrayal of the title role in Henrik Ibsen's Hedda Gabler, and Best Featured Actress in a Play for her portrayals of Pinhead/Mrs. Kendal in the revival of The Elephant Man.[9] As of May 2019, she is one of only six actors, including Amanda Plummer, Dana Ivey, Jan Maxwell, Mark Rylance, and Jeremy Pope, to be nominated for Tony awards in two different categories in the same year.[10] In 2006, Burton starred in the Off-Broadway production of The Water's Edge opposite Tony Goldwyn.[11] That year, she again received a Tony nomination for Best Leading Actress in a Play for her role in W. Somerset Maugham's The Constant Wife.[9] In 2007, she played Ranevskaya in The Cherry Orchard at Boston's Huntington Theatre.[12] On December 21, 2007, she joined the cast of the Broadway musical Spring Awakening[9] in the role of the Adult Women when she replaced actress Christine Estabrook.[13] Kristine Nielsen replaced her on March 2, 2008, for a short stint until Estabrook reassumed the role.[14] During the summer of 2010, Burton portrayed actress Katharine Cornell in A.R. Gurney's The Grand Manner at Lincoln Center in New York.[15] In April 2017, she began playing Liz Essendine in the Broadway revival of Present Laughter, the play in which she made her debut.[16]

Film and television

Burton's first screen appearance was in the 1969 film Anne of the Thousand Days, starring her father, with whom she later appeared as Alice opposite his White Knight in the 1983 Great Performances broadcast of Alice in Wonderland, and in the 1984 CBS miniseries Ellis Island. Other films include Big Trouble in Little China, The First Wives Club, Life with Mikey, and The Ice Storm. Burton has said of these roles that she usually plays "the sweet wife, or the sweet dead wife."[17]

Burton has been perhaps most prolific in her work on television. She made many television appearances in the late 1980s and 1990s on such episodic shows as Spenser: For Hire, All My Children, and Brooklyn Bridge. About playing the mother, in her late thirties, of David Schwimmer's character in the short-lived 1994 FOX sitcom, Monty, she said, "you don't really start playing moms in Hollywood until you're in your 40s, and usually the kids are almost your age! When I played Schwimmer's mother, I was 37 and he was, I think, 28. . . that happens a lot in TV and film; you really do end up being close in age to your child, which is nonsensical."[18] In 1996, Burton won a Daytime Emmy award for her performance as a mother dying of breast cancer in the ABC Afterschool Special, 'Notes for my Daughter'. More recently, she made guest appearances as recurring characters on Law & Order, The Practice, The West Wing, Judging Amy and Medium. She also appeared on the HBO miniseries Empire Falls.

Some of her recurring television roles have involved subplots concerning Alzheimer's disease. On FX network's Rescue Me, she played the role of Rose, a friend and possible romantic interest to Chief Jerry Reilly. Reilly, whose wife is in a facility suffering from Alzheimer's, hires Rose, a caregiver for her husband who was also a victim, to provide assistance and emotional support. Burton's most visible and well-known role to date is the mysterious and difficult mother of Dr. Meredith Grey (Ellen Pompeo), the titular character on ABC's medical drama Grey's Anatomy. Burton plays Dr. Ellis Grey, the former trailblazing surgeon, and a two-time winner of the fictionalized, prestigious Harper Avery Award. Her character's battle and death of Alzheimer's is central to Meredith's story in all seasons of the series, as Meredith fears both getting the disease and resembling her mother as she ages. The character is also revealed to be the birth mother of Meredith's half-sister, Dr. Maggie Pierce (Kelly McCreary) through her love affair with Dr. Richard Webber (James Pickens, Jr.).

Like Schwimmer's character in Monty, Burton and Pompeo (who portrays Meredith) also have a small age gap, with Pompeo being 12 years her junior. In-universe, Meredith (born 1978) is 25 years younger than Ellis (born 1953), with Pompeo aged down 11 years and Burton aged up 4 years. (Though the character's exact ages were not determined until a retcon was established in season 11). In 2008, the New York City Chapter of the Alzheimer's Association singled her out for her compelling performances in both shows.[19] In 2006 and 2007, Burton received Emmy nominations for her Grey's Anatomy role.[20] Burton's character dies in the third season episode "Some Kind of Miracle", which aired in 2007; she returned to the role five years later, in the season 8 alternate reality episode. It depicts a version of her life where Richard did not leave her and she did not have Alzheimer's. Burton's character is central to the eleventh season, as Meredith's marital struggles begin to parallel her own mother's struggles, something she feared. She reprised her role in flashbacks for the eleventh season, showing Ellis briefly before her Alzheimer's diagnosis. In season 14's landmark 300th episode, Burton's Ellis is shown as a dream-sequence figure, clapping for Meredith, who has also now won a Harper Avery award. She re-appears twice as a dream sequence figure in the fifteenth season. Burton will return to the role in the eighteenth season, beginning with its season premiere.

In 2011, Burton appeared as Marie Kessler, a veteran monster hunter, and the aunt of Nick Burkhardt in the opening episodes of the NBC supernatural drama Grimm. Since 2012, she plays the recurring role of Vice President Sally Langston in the ABC hit show Scandal, for which she again received an Emmy nomination.[21][20] In 2015, it was reported that Burton was cast in a leading role in the U.S. remake of the French-language film Martyrs, which opened theatrically in January 2016.[22][23] In March 2017, she reprised her role as Aunt Marie Kessler in the series finale of Grimm.

Other work

Burton has narrated numerous audiobooks, including works by: Patricia Cornwell, Lisa Scottoline, Iris Johansen, and Dean Koontz.[24]

Personal life

In 1985, Burton married Michael Ritchie,[25] Artistic Director of the Center Theatre Group in Los Angeles and one of the producers of the Broadway musicals The Drowsy Chaperone and Curtains.[26] They met in 1982, while Ritchie was stage manager of a revival of Noël Coward's Present Laughter at the Circle in the Square Theatre in New York City in which Burton was playing the character Daphne.[27] They have two children, a son, Morgan Ivor[28][29] and a daughter, Charlotte Frances.[30][31]



Year Title Role Notes
1969 Anne of the Thousand Days Serving Maid Uncredited
1986 Big Trouble in Little China Margo Litzenberger
1993 Life with Mikey Mrs. Burns
1996 August Helen Blathwaite
1996 The First Wives Club Woman in Bed
1997 The Ice Storm Dorothy Franklin
1998 Celebrity Cheryl
2000 The Opportunists Rest Home Sister
2002 Unfaithful Tracy
2002 Swimfan Carla Cronin
2003 The Paper Mache Chase Martha Short film
2005 Stay Mrs. Letham
2006 Sherrybaby Marcia Swanson
2007 Lovely by Surprise Helen
2008 What Just Happened Dr. Randall
2008 Quid Pro Quo Merilee
2008 Max Payne Nicole Horne
2009 The Kings of Appletown Aunt Birdy
2009 Spooner Alice Spooner
2010 Remember Me Janine
2010 Consent Susan
2010 127 Hours Aron's Mom
2011 Puncture Senator O'Reilly
2012 Liberal Arts Susan
2012 2 Days in New York Bella
2012 Mariachi Gringo Anne
2014 Barefoot Mrs. Wheeler
2015 Bleeding Heart Martha
2015 Martyrs Eleanor
2015 Amok Dr. Wilson
2019 Where'd You Go, Bernadette Ellen Idelson
2022 Breaking Tami Stackhouse
2023 Our Son Maggie
2023 The Anne Frank Gift Shop Ilse Short film
2023 Dumb Money Elaine Gill


Year Title Role Notes
1983, 2017 Great Performances Alice / Liz Essendine 2 episodes
1984 Ellis Island Vanessa Ogden Miniseries
3 episodes
1985 Evergreen Agatha Bradford Episode: "1.2"
1987 Uncle Tom's Cabin Ophelia Television film
1987–1988 Spenser: For Hire Randy Lofficier 2 episodes
1988 American Playhouse Agnes Bolton O'Neill Episode: "Journey Into Genius"
1992 Law & Order Sister Bettina Episode: "Sisters of Mercy"
1992 Home Fires Anne Kramer 6 episodes
1993 Brooklyn Bridge Susan Lowenberg Jones Episode: "Keeping Up with the Joneses"
1993 Love Matters Deborah Television film
1994 Monty Fran Richardson 13 episodes
1994 All My Children Dr. Renee Peters Unknown episodes
1995 ABC Afterschool Special Brenda Gardner Episode: "Notes for My Daughter"
Daytime Emmy Award for Outstanding Performer in a Children's Special
1996 Mistrial Katherine Donohue Television film
1997 Ellen Foster Abigail Montford Television film
1997–2004 The Practice A.D.A. Susan Alexander 9 episodes
2001–2009 Law & Order Erica Gardner 4 episodes
2001 100 Centre Street Sheila Byrne Episode: "My Brother's Keeper"
2001 Law & Order: Criminal Intent Stephanie Uffland Episode: "The Pardoner's Tale"
2002 Obsessed Sara Miller Television film
2003 The Diary of Ellen Rimbauer Connie Posey Television film
2004 The West Wing Sarah Brainerd Episode: "Slow News Day"
2005 Judging Amy Dr. Sheri Jordan Episode: "Silent Era"
2005 Empire Falls Cindy Whiting 2 episodes
2005 American Masters Voice of Novels Episode: "Ernest Hemingway: Rivers to the Sea"
2005 Numb3rs Anthropologist Episode: "Bones of Contention"
2005–2006 Rescue Me Rose 6 episodes
2005–present Grey's Anatomy Ellis Grey 26 episodes
Nominated—Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Guest Actress in a Drama Series (2006–07)
2006 Justice Sarah Miller Episode: "Death Spiral"
2007 Supreme Courtships Justice Suzanne Mary Lynch Unsold TV pilot
2008 Medium Bonnie Barrister Episode: "To Have and to Hold"
2009 Eleventh Hour Gepetto / Miranda Cochran Episode: "Pinocchio"
2009 Washingtonienne Joy Episode: "Pilot"
2009–2012 The Good Wife Victoria Adler 3 episodes
2010 The Deep End Grace Graham Episode: "Pilot"
2011 Law & Order: Special Victims Unit Annette Cole Episode: "Bully"
2011 Criminal Minds: Suspect Behavior Deirdre Norris Episode: "Smother"
2011 The Closer Kate Wycoff Episode: "Forgive Us Our Trespasses"
2011–2017 Grimm Marie Kessler 3 episodes
2012 Made in Jersey Lorraine Beckett Episode: "Cacti"
2012–2017 Veep Barbara Hallowes 3 episodes
2012–2018 Scandal Vice President Sally Langston 42 episodes
Nominated—Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Guest Actress in a Drama Series (2014)
2013 Revolution Dr. Jane Warren Episode: "The Night the Lights Went Out in Georgia"
2013 Live from Lincoln Center Mrs. Mullin Episode: "The New York Philharmonic's Performance of Rodgers & Hammerstein's Carousel"
2014 Rake Holly Phillips Episode: "Hey, Good Looking"
2015 Full Circle Vera Quinn 5 episodes
2015 Key & Peele Hillary Clinton Episode: "Y'all Ready for This?"
2015 Extant Fiona Stanton 6 episodes
2016 Elementary Maureen Dannon Episode: "Down Where the Dead Delight"
2016–2018 Madam Secretary Maureen McCord-Ryan 2 episodes
2018 This Is Us Barbara 2 episodes
2018 Modern Family Iris Fennerman Episode: "The Escape"
2018 Mr. Mercedes Mrs. MacDonald 3 episodes
2018 The Gifted Dr. Madeline Risman-Garver Episode: "the dreaM"
2019, 2021 Supergirl Isabel Nal 3 episodes
2019 NCIS: New Orleans Angela Prescott Episode: "A House Divided"
2019 Strange Angel 4 episodes
2019 Perfect Harmony Julie Episode: "Merry Jaxmas"
2020 Homeland Doris Warner Episode: "F**ker Shot Me"
2020–2021 Charmed Elder Celeste 6 episodes
2020 13 Reasons Why Doctor Episodes: "Graduation
2020–2021 American Experience Narrator 4 episodes
2021 Prodigal Son Sarah Windsor Episode: "Bad Manners"
2021 The Mosquito Coast Margot's Mom Episode: "Light Out"
2022 Inventing Anna Nora Radford 3 episodes
2022 The Dropout Rochelle Gibbons 4 episodes
2022 Bosch: Legacy Ida Porter 5 episodes
2022 The First Lady Hillary Clinton Episode: "Rift"
2022 So Help Me Todd Joan Episode: "Let the Wright One In"
2022 Echo 3 The Senator 2 episodes


  1. ^ "Kate Burton". Turner Classic Movies. Retrieved September 8, 2023.
  2. ^ "Kate Burton (Performer)". Playbill. Retrieved September 8, 2023.
  3. ^ Team TVLine (December 12, 2013). "Kate Burton in 'Scandal': 'A Door Marked Exit' — Performer of the Week". TVLine. Archived from the original on December 16, 2013. Retrieved December 16, 2013.
  4. ^ The Broadway League. "Kate Burton | IBDB: The official source for Broadway Information". IBDB. Retrieved December 16, 2013.
  5. ^ Findlater, Richard (December 28, 1959). "Life with the Swiss family Burton". Evening Standard (London). p. 5. Retrieved July 30, 2022 – via Newspapers.com.
  6. ^ "Yale School of Drama Board of Advisors | drama.yale.edu". drama.yale.edu. Archived from the original on March 4, 2014. Retrieved January 23, 2016.
  7. ^ "Biographies of Alumni Trustees". Brown Alumni Association. Retrieved January 23, 2016.
  8. ^ Pogrebin, Robin (November 6, 2001). "A Sudden Breakout Moment, And Kate Burton Is Loving It". The New York Times. Retrieved January 18, 2016.
  9. ^ a b c d "Kate Burton Performer". Playbill Vault. Retrieved January 18, 2016.
  10. ^ "HISTORY". Tony Awards. Archived from the original on July 4, 2015. Retrieved January 18, 2016.
  11. ^ Hernandez, Ernio (June 14, 2006). "Hath No Fury: Kate Burton and Tony Goldwyn Open The Water's Edge Off-Broadway". Playbill. Retrieved January 18, 2016.
  12. ^ "Kate Burton | Huntington Theatre Company". www.huntingtontheatre.org. Retrieved January 18, 2016.
  13. ^ "Kate Burton, Blake Bashoff to Join Broadway's Spring Awakening". TheaterMania.com. Retrieved January 18, 2016.
  14. ^ "Nielsen Joins Broadway's Spring Awakening March 4". Playbill. Retrieved January 18, 2016.
  15. ^ Hetrick, Adam (June 2, 2010). "Gurney's The Grand Manner, with Gaines, Burton, Steggert and Wehle, Arrives Off-Broadway". Playbill.
  16. ^ Viagas, Robert (December 9, 2016). "Kate Burton Will Join Kevin Kline in Broadway's Present Laughter". Playbill. Retrieved April 29, 2017.
  17. ^ Warren, Larkin (November 18, 2001). "Finding Her Inner Hedda". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved January 20, 2016.
  18. ^ "'Grey's Anatomy's' Kate Burton on Her 16 Famous 'Children'". The Hollywood Reporter. October 9, 2014. Retrieved January 23, 2016.
  19. ^ "Fall 2008 Newsletter- "Forget-Me-Not" Gala Acknowledges". www.alznyc.org. Retrieved January 23, 2016.
  20. ^ a b "Kate Burton | Television Academy". Television Academy. Retrieved January 23, 2016.
  21. ^ "'Scandal': 'Grey's Anatomy' veteran Kate Burton joins Shonda Rhimes' new show – Zap2it". Blog.zap2it.com. September 26, 2011. Retrieved December 16, 2013.
  22. ^ "Bailey Noble, who played Adilyn Bellefleur on "True Blood," toplining with "Pretty Little Liars" star Troian Bellisario. Kate Burton (Stay, Big Trouble in Little China) and Blake Robbins (Rubber) round out the cast of Martyrs". March 25, 2015.
  23. ^ Catsoulis, Jeanette (January 21, 2016). "Review: 'Martyrs,' a Slashing Remake, Centers on Two Friends". The New York Times. Retrieved January 24, 2016.
  24. ^ "Audioeditions". Audioeditions. July 9, 2012. Archived from the original on February 4, 2010. Retrieved July 20, 2012.
  25. ^ "Times Daily – Google News Archive Search". news.google.com. Retrieved January 23, 2016.
  26. ^ "Michael Ritchie" (PDF). Center TheatreGroup of Los Angelies. Archived from the original (PDF) on August 18, 2015. Retrieved January 23, 2016.
  27. ^ Pincus-Roth, Zachary. "Kate Burton and Michael Ritchie: L.A.'s Theater Power Couple Keeps the Drama Onstage". L.A. Weekly. Retrieved January 23, 2016.
  28. ^ "Ritchie '10 enters family trade with major acting 'debut'". Brown Daily Herald. Retrieved January 23, 2016.
  29. ^ Douglas, Hillary (March 3, 2013). "Richard Burton's lookalike grandson plants his Hollywood star". Express.co.uk. Retrieved January 23, 2016.
  30. ^ Hetrick, Adam (July 3, 2007). "Kate Burton Makes Williamstown's The Corn Is Green a Family Event". Playbill. Philip S Birsh. Retrieved July 20, 2012.
  31. ^ "Kate Burton Biography". Yahoo Movies. Archived from the original on October 20, 2012. Retrieved July 20, 2012.