S. Epatha Merkerson
November 28, 1952
Saginaw, Michigan, U.S.
|Education||Wayne State University (BFA)|
S. Epatha Merkerson[a] (born Sharon Epatha Merkerson; November 28, 1952) is an American actress. She has received 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. She is known for her portrayal of Lieutenant Anita Van Buren on the NBC police procedural drama series Law & Order, a role she played from 1993 to 2010, appearing in 388 episodes of the series. She is also known for playing Reba the Mail Lady on Pee-wee's Playhouse and Sharon Goodwin in the NBC medical drama Chicago Med since the series premiered in November 2015 (and in crossover appearances on Chicago Fire and Chicago P.D.)
Merkerson was born Sharon Epatha Merkerson in Saginaw, Michigan, and raised in Detroit. She is the youngest of five children raised by her mother Ann who worked for the post office.
During a segment on the January 31, 2012, episode of The Wendy Williams Show, when asked about the origin of her name, Merkerson said that "Epatha" was the name of "a grade-school teacher who was influential in keeping her father in school". Merkerson graduated from Cooley High School in 1970 and earned her Bachelor of Fine Arts in theatre at Wayne State University in 1976. She was made an Honorary Doctor of Humane Letters by Wayne State University in May 2009 and received the same distinction from the University of Maryland Eastern Shore in 2012, from Montclair State University in 2013, and from the University of Pittsburgh in 2017.
In 1978, she 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 "Mushrooms" (Season 1: Episode 17) 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 career 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 her performance as Berniece in August Wilson's Pulitzer Prize–winning play The Piano Lesson. For that, she was nominated for a Tony Award as Best Featured Actress in a Play. Merkerson has also won 2 Obie Awards for her work in I'm Not Stupid and Birdie Blue, a Helen Hayes Award for The Old Settler, and a Lucille Lortel nomination for F**king A by Suzan-Lori Parks. 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. 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 Find Our Missing, a reality-reenactment series on TV One which profiles missing people of color. She performed 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, written by Billy Porter. In 2015, she joined the cast of NBC medical drama Chicago Med as Sharon Goodwin, Chief of Patient and Medical Services. The series was conceived and written by Law & Order creator Dick Wolf, along with Matt Olmstead, Derek Haas and Michael Brandt. 2014, Merkerson became a spokesperson for Merck America's Diabetes Challenge, to increase Type 2 diabetes awareness among African Americans.
Merkerson appeared on the television series of Henry Louis Gates' Finding Your Roots on February 5, 2019 (Season 5, Episode 5), 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. These priests owned 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).
|1986||She's Gotta Have It||Dr. Jamison|
|1990||Loose Cannons||Officer Rachel|
|1990||Navy Seals||Jolena 'Jo'|
|1991||Terminator 2: Judgment Day||Tarissa Dyson|
|2001||The Rising Place||Lessie Watson|
|2005||Lackawanna Blues||Rachel "Nanny" Crosby|
|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|
|2015||The Challenger||Jada Miller|
|2016||Year by the Sea||Liz|
|1986–1989||Pee-wee's Playhouse||Reba, The Mail Lady||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||Captain Margaret Claghorn||9 episodes|
|1992–1993||Here and Now||Ms. St. Marth||12 episodes|
|1993–2010||Law & Order||Lieutenant 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||Lieutenant 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||Lieutenant Anita Van Buren||Episode: "Badge"|
|2005||Law & Order: Trial by Jury||Lieutenant 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||5 episodes|
|2016–Present||Chicago P.D.||5 episodes|
|2023||Poker Face||Joyce Carter||Episode: "Time of the Monkey"|
Doctor of Letters, University of Pittsburgh
Montclair State University
Doctor of Letters, Wayne State University