Who Is 'Chicago Med' Star S. Epatha Merkerson?

In the television series Chicago Med, it is up to Sharon Goodwin, portrayed by S. Epatha Merkerson, to keep the hospital running smoothly. Goodwin is the fictional Chief of Services at Gaffney Chicago Medical Center, where the series is set. A former ER charge nurse, she runs a tight ship but often goes out a limb for the employees under her.

She may look familiar to many, as portraying someone in charge is nothing new for Merkerson. Before taking on the character of Goodwin, she portrayed Lt. Anita Van Buren in the original Law and Order as commander of New York’s 27th Precinct Detective Squad, playing opposite the late Jerry Orbach’s Detective Lennie Briscoe.

Her start was in theater moving on to television later. Let’s take a look.

The early days for Merkerson

The 67-year-old Michigan native earned her Bachelor of Fine Arts degree from Detroit’s Wayne University, according to IMDb. She moved to New York seeking work on the stage. Her list of Broadway and off-Broadway credits and accolades is quite extensive. She was nominated for a Tony Award for her performances in The Piano Lesson, an Obie Award in I’m Not Stupid, and the Helen Hayes Award for The Old Settler.

It was in the 80s that she started her television career with a guest role on The Cosby Show. In 1986, she was cast as a regular on Pee-Wee’s Playhouse, portraying Reba the Mail Woman. In 1990, she was cast as Van Buren in Law and Order. She wore a wig to conceal her natural braided hairdo, and following Orbach leaving the show in 2004, Merkerson became the longest-running cast member. Merkerson portrayed Van Buren for more than 300 episodes on the show. Her character also crossed over into subsequent Law and Order shows including Criminal Intent and Trial by Jury.

Merkerson has been cast in other television roles. She won an Emmy, a Golden Globe, and a Screen Actors Guild Award for her portrayal of Rachel “Nanny” Crosby in the 2005 HBO movie version of Lackawanna Blues.

Merkerson as Sharon Goodwin on Chicago Med

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Chicago Med is the third series in the Chicago One group following Chicago Fire and Chicago PD. The trilogy is produced by Wolf Entertainment and Dick Wolf having also produced the Law and Order shows. Merkerson being cast in her role as Goodwin is no coincidence.  

“Dick has been a loyal producer and friend. He first hired me at 41, and now he’s hiring me at 62,” Merkerson said in a 2015 interview with AARP. “That says he knows the importance of the female point of view at all stages. I consider him a dear, dear friend.” In the same interview, Merkerson said, Goodwin is “a stand-up person. She’ll back up her doctors and try to do what she can to keep the hospital running properly.”

She further mentioned at the time that she hoped her new character’s personality and past life would be given more air time than her previous role on Law and Order. Through the Chicago Med’s five seasons thus far, she has been able to reveal her marriage and subsequent divorce, as well as her relationship with her son, and other staff members of the hospital. Merkerson’s Goodwin character has also appeared on Chicago Fire and Chicago PD.

A bit about Merkerson’s personal life

Through her years in acting, Merkerson has amassed a net worth of about $9 million, according to TVOM. She was once married and divorced. She has no children. 

In 2019 and again in 2020, she appeared in the PBS series Finding Your Roots. There she shared she was a descendant of some of the 272 enslaved people sold in the 1838 Jesuit slave sale in Georgetown, Maryland to pay-off debts incurred by Georgetown College, now Georgetown University.

Merkerson is a strong advocate for lung cancer research and awareness. A previous smoker herself, she is now a voice against smoking. Her sister is a lung-cancer survivor, but she has lost some close friends to the disease. 

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