Black Actress From “Law and Order” For 17 Seasons is Now 70 Years Old

S. Epatha Merkerson

You may not recognize her name, but you definitely know her face. Actress S. Epatha Merkerson is a film and television actress mostly known for her character as Lieutenant Anita Van Buren on NBC's Law & Order. She appeared in 388 episodes of the series for 17 consecutive seasons and has recently turned 70 years old.

Born and raised in Detroit, Michigan, she graduated from Cooley High School in 1970 and went on to get a Master's degree in Fine Arts from New York University in 1978. She also earned her Bachelor's degree in Theatre at Wayne State University in 1976.

She first appeared on Law & Order in episode 17 of Season 1 as the grief-stricken mother of an 11-month-old boy who has been shot accidentally. Her performance influenced the producers enough to select her 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.

She went on to portray the role of Lieutenant Anita from 1993 to 2010. All in all, she appeared in 388 episodes of the series for 17 consecutive seasons.

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.

For her performances, 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.

She was also awarded an Honorary Doctor of Humane Letters by Wayne State University in 2009, and also received the same honor from Montclair State University in 2013, from the University of Pittsburgh in 2017, and the University of Maryland Eastern Shore in 2012.