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Jere Burns Biography


Home > Actors > B > Burns, Jere > Biography


Birth Name: Jere Burns
Born: 10/15/1954
Birth Place: Cambridge, Massachusetts, USA


He was born Jerald Eugene Burns II on Oct. 15, 1954 in Cambridge, MA, the first of four sons of a homemaker and a maker of graduations caps and gowns. Burns did some acting in high school but did not initially view it as a career path. After graduating high school, he decided to log some life experience, working stints as a life guard on Cape Cod, a cabbie in Boston and doing some low-budget touring of Europe. In 1976, he matriculated at the University of Massachusetts in Amherst, MA, and it was there he discovered his penchant for acting, though mostly as a minor pursuit to his comparative literature major. After he graduated in 1980, he moved to New York, where he worked on an MFA Tisch School of the Arts and picked up stage work, doing some off-Broadway shows and garnering as his most auspicious credit the title role in a version of "Don Juan" for the New York Shakespeare Festival. He landed a small part in an "ABC Afterschool Special" (1972-1997) in 1984 and decided to take a shot at more TV work, so moved to Los Angeles. The relocation proved fruitful as he almost immediately landed a part as a serial rapist in a short arc on the groundbreaking urban drama "Hill Street Blues" (NBC, 1981-87). He picked up some minor movie roles and by1986, had acquired a healthy run of one-off jobs on primetime series. In 1987, he took on another heel, a mercenary criminal who disposes of dead bodies for wicked cohorts on the proto-cyberpunk sci-fi series "Max Headroom" (ABC, 1987-88). In 1988, Burns landed the part that would make his face famous.

On the Judd Hirsch-anchored situation comedy "Dear John," Burns played Kirk Morris, an inveterate, lascivious sexist and grudgingly tolerated buddy of Hirsch's more even-keeled, recently divorced protagonist, with their friendship being the result of meeting in a divorce support group. Burns played Kirk with such incorrigible sleaze that People magazine referred to Kirk as "every woman's worst nightmare: the lascivious shark in gold chains, loud sport shirt and polyester suit, hell-bent on targeting the nearest 'broadski' or femme the biggest, funniest, sleaziest slime ball on primetime TV, and the main reason NBC's 'Dear John' has become one of only three new series to crack the Nielsen Top 10." The show lasted four seasons and garnered Burns more work, netting him some supporting roles in B-features and some telefilm work. But once "Dear John" shuttered, his comedic imprint made him in demand as the designated comic lightning rod in TV comedy. On two separate occasions, producers brought Burns in to add some texture to flagging shows, a corporate weasel on the short-lived Bob Newhart vehicle "Bob" (CBS, 1992-93) and a snarky stay-at-home dad on "The Mommies" (NBC, 1994-95). In 1994, he earned a slot in an impressive ensemble of comic actors playing an avaricious family vying for a rich uncle's fortune in the Michael J. Fox/ Kirk Douglas-centered comedy "Greedy" (1994). Burns broke out of the character actor groove in 1996, donning more of a straight role as a teacher and once-married dad combining families with a twice-married mom (Mel Harris) on the short-lived series "Something So Right" (NBC/ABC, 1996-97).

The latter years of the century and first of the next saw him as a prolific guest-star on primetime television; the occasional first- or second-billed male lead in TV movies, highlighted by his turn as dad to a young girl (Lindsay Lohan) who brings her fashion doll to life (Tyra Banks) in the Disney/ABC family flick "Life-Size" (2000); and occasionally returning to his bad-guy ways, notably with his evil Hollywood mogul in the Paul Hogan feature "Crocodile Dundee in Los Angeles" (2001). Network television called again in 2002, and he was paired with Suzanne Pleshette to add some added veteran traction to the young office ensemble centered around a struggling local TV morning show in "Good Morning, Miami." Burns made his Broadway debut in 2005, playing multiple roles in Elaine May's "After the Night and Music," but the play received tepid notices and closed after 38 performances. In 2006, he joined a comic cast that included Tim Meadows, Jane Lynch and Jane Kaczmarek, supporting Ted Danson's turn as a renowned therapist in need of some help himself in "Help Me Help You," but the firepower was not enough to keep the series afloat past 14 episodes.

In 2007, Burns returned to Broadway, joining the cast of the long-running musical "Hairspray." His next sitcom fared poorly as well, with Burns taking the part of a proverbial whacky next-door neighbor to Bob Saget on the ABC sitcom "Surviving Suburbia," which the network axed after a short summer run as a mid-season replacement show. Burns meanwhile started picking up more dramatic guest roles. When he popped up in a recurring role on AMC's breakthrough crime drama "Breaking Bad," few recognized him as the soft-spoken, empathic leader of Jesse Pinkman's drug rehab support group, his character's benign surface belying a tragic circumstance of his own drug-abusive past. Also that year, he went dark again with a guest-shot on FX's critically adored crime drama "Justified," on which Burns played a murderous capo in the Dixie Mafia with such creepy and sadistic relish that he became a fan favorite as a regular nemesis of Timothy Olyphant's character, Raylan Givens, in ensuing seasons. Seemingly finding a groove as a heel, in 2011 Burns joined the fifth season of USA Network's hit spy drama "Burn Notice" in another recurring role as a psychiatrist and Machiavellian master of subterfuge pulling strings for the mercenary black ops organization complicit in the "burning" protagonist Michael Westen (Jeffrey Donovan).

By Matthew Grimm