Actor. He is best remembered for his roles in the CBS drama series "Perry Mason" as the defense lawyer by the same name, that aired from September 1957 until May 1966 and continues to run in syndication; and for the NBC television crime show "Ironside," as the paraplegic Chief of Detectives 'Robert T. Ironside,' that aired from September 1967 until January 1975. Born Raymond William Stacey Burr, his father was a hardware salesman and his mother was a concert pianist and music teacher. At the age of 12, he made his stage debut with a Vancouver, British Columbia, stock company. After his parents divorced, he moved to Vallejo, California, with his mother and younger siblings. He attended a military academy for a while and graduated from Berkeley High School in Berkeley, California. In 1937, he launched his acting career at the Pasadena Playhouse in Pasadena, California, and in 1941, he appeared in his first Broadway role with "Crazy with the Heat." He became a contract player at RKO Pictures, playing a film noir villain in "Raw Deal" (1948). In 1946, he had a regular part in Jack Webb's first radio show, "Pat Novak for Hire," playing Webb's nemesis 'Detective Heilman.' From 1946 to 1957, he appeared in over 60 films, most notably "Pitfall" (1948), "A Place in the Sun" (1951), Alfred Hitchcock's classic "Rear Window" (1954), and "Godzilla, King of the Monsters!" (1956). In the early to mid-1950s he emerged as a prolific television character actor, making his television debut in April, 1952, on the episode "The Tiger" of "Gruen Playhouse" on the DuMont television network. This part led to other roles in such programs as "Dragnet," "Four Star Playhouse," "Mr. & Mrs. North," "Schlitz Playhouse of Stars," "The Ford Television Theatre," and "Lux Video Theatre." In 1956, he auditioned for the role of District Attorney 'Hamilton Burger' in "Perry Mason," a new courtroom drama based on the highly-successful novels written and created by Erle Stanley Gardner, while William Talman auditioned for the title role. As it turned out, he and Talman ended up receiving the opposite roles and he won two Emmy Awards in 1959 and 1961. After "Perry Mason" concluded in 1966, he moved from CBS to Universal Studios, where he played the title role in the television drama "Ironside," the first crime drama show ever to feature a disabled police officer. For his efforts, he received six Emmy and two Golden Globe nominations. After "Ironside," NBC failed in two attempts to launch him as the star of a new series. In a two-hour television movie format, "Mallory: Circumstantial Evidence" aired in February, 1976, with Burr again in the role of the lawyer who outwits the district attorney. Despite his receiving good reviews, the critical reception was poor, and NBC decided against developing it into a series. The following year, he starred in the short-lived television series "Kingston: Confidential" as 'R.B Kingston', a William Randolph Hearst-type publishing magnate, owner of numerous newspapers and TV stations, who, in his spare time, solved crimes along with a group of employees. It was a critical failure that was scheduled opposite the extraordinarily popular "Charlie's Angels" and was cancelled after 13 weeks. He then took on a shorter project next, playing an underworld boss in a six-hour miniseries, "79 Park Avenue." One last attempt to launch a series followed on CBS, with the two-hour premiere of "The Jourdan Chance," but it aroused little interest. He co-starred in such TV films as "Eischied: Only The Pretty Girls Die," the miniseries "Centennial," and "Disaster On The Coastliner" (all in 1979), "The Curse of King Tut's Tomb" and "The Night the City Screamed" (both 1980), and "Peter and Paul" (1981). He also had a supporting role in Dennis Hopper's controversial film "Out of the Blue" (1980) and spoofed his 'Perry Mason' image in "Airplane II: The Sequel" (1982). In 1985, he was approached by producers Dean Hargrove and Fred Silverman to star in a made-for-TV movie "Perry Mason Returns," and he agreed to it if Barbara Hale returned to reprise her role as Della Street. Hale agreed, and when "Perry Mason Returns" aired in December 1985, her character became the defendant. The rest of the original cast had died, but Hale's real-life son, William Katt, played the role of private detective 'Paul Drake, Jr.' The movie became a success, and he went on to make 26 more before his death. He also reprised his 1956 role in "Godzilla, King of the Monsters!" in "Godzilla 1985: The Legend Is Reborn," and the film won him a nomination for a Razzie Award for Worst Supporting Actor. In January, 1987, he hosted the television special that later served as the pilot for the long-running series "Unsolved Mysteries." By 1993, when he signed with NBC for another season of "Perry Mason" films, he was using a wheelchair full-time because of his failing health. Twelve more "Perry Mason" movies were scheduled before Burr's death, including one scheduled to film the month of his death. In addition to acting, he owned an orchid business and had begun to grow a vineyard in the Dry Creek Valley section of Sonoma County, California. He was a collector of wines and art, and was very fond of cooking. He was also a dedicated seashell collector whose financial support and gift of cowries and cones from Fiji helped to create the Bailey-Matthews Shell Museum in Sanibel, Florida. He was married to Isabella Ward from 1949 until their divorce in 1952. In the mid-1950s he met Robert Benevides, a young actor and Korean War veteran, on the set of "Perry Mason" and, according to Benevides, they became a couple around 1960 and remained together until his death. Later accounts of Burr's life explain that he hid his homosexuality in order to protect his career. He has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame for his contributions to television. In 2008, he was featured on Canada Post's postage stamp in its "Canadians in Hollywood" series. He also received the 2009 Canadian Legends Award and a star on Canada's Walk of Fame in Toronto.
Bio by: William Bjornstad
1919–2004 (m. 1948)