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Too soon! A Twitter backlash over LeVar Burton's Philip Seymour Hoffman 'joke'

The actor has been inspiring Crave's Eric Mack since he was a young geek. This week, not so much.

Eric Mack Contributing Editor
Contributing editor Eric Mack covers space, science, climate change and all things futuristic. His encrypted email for tips is ericcmack@protonmail.com.
Eric Mack
2 min read
Not everything he says is educational... Video screenshot by Eric Mack/CNET

There's sadness and liberation in realizing that one of your heroes is also just a normal, fallible human. That's how I'm feeling today about LeVar Burton, a man I've looked up to at just about every stage of my life, but who tweeted something pretty tasteless and tacky about the tragic passing of Philip Seymour Hoffman (another talented person I've admired for years) this week from an apparent heroin overdose.

Here's what Burton tweeted shortly after news of Hoffman's death broke:

Did you cringe much? I might expect this kind of cheap shot from someone like Howard Stern, but not the man who helped teach me to read on Reading Rainbow; not Geordi Laforge; not Kunta Kinte!

The backlash on Twitter came almost instantly, and at first Burton dug in his heels:

But by Monday afternoon, he had apparently had a change of heart:

By the way, some headlines out there on this whole flap mention the negative effect it's had on Burton's count of Twitter followers, but as it turns out, he's actually gained more followers than usual throughout the whole thing, according to Twitter Counter.

I'll always stick up for Burton or Stern's right to say something completely insensitive in public, just as I'll defend the right of everyone else to call them out for being a jackass. But I'm relieved to see Burton come to his senses on this one. He's been an idol of mine since his original Reading Rainbow days, helped me embrace my geekiness during his "Star Trek: The Next Generation" days, and just last year he inspired me again at South By Southwest, where he spoke in support of an effort to conceive of a craft capable of interstellar travel within the next 100 years.

But this week I was reminded that although his acting talents (and some of his fictional headgear) may be superhuman, he's still just a dude, like all of our favorite geek celebrities, but he's also a dude with the stones to admit when he's wrong. Maybe I'm just a hopeless fanboy, but I'm going to just add that to my decades-long list of reasons that Burton is still one of my heroes.