Christopher Joseph “Chris” Burke is a former American actor and folk singer. He is currently an advocate for creating awareness about Down syndrome. As an actor, he became popular for the character Charles Thatcher in the TV series ‘Life Goes On’. Burke was born in New York, US. He has Down syndrome and his parents were told to institutionalize him. However, his parents raised him by themselves and supported him wholeheartedly, helping him nurture his talents. His first acting role was in a school production of the play ‘The Emperor’s New Clothes’. Later, he started working on his skills by attending night classes and going to auditions. Eventually, in 1987, he found a role in the TV movie ‘Desperate’. His performance as the character Charles Thatcher was appreciated so much that the network executives decided to create the TV series ‘Life Goes On’ with his character in the lead role. Though he hasn’t appeared in any TV shows or films for a long time, he has been active in Down syndrome advocacy. He has been the Goodwill Ambassador for the National Down Syndrome Society since 1994.
Chris Burke’s first work as a professional actor was in 1987, in the TV movie ‘Desperate’. His performance as the character Charles Thatcher was much appreciated. This led the network executives to create a TV series ‘Life Goes On’, which starred his character in a lead role. The series became the first TV show to have a main character with Down syndrome. The show earned several awards and nominations. Burke himself was nominated for the Golden Globe Award in the ‘Best Supporting Character’ category. He also won a Young Artist Award in the category of ‘Inspiration to Youth’. The series aired from 1989 to 1993.
In 1992, he again played a boy with Down syndrome in the TV movie named ‘Jonathan: The Boy Nobody Wanted’. He portrayed the titular character Jonathan, who is institutionalized by his parents. Critical reception was mostly positive. In 1994, he was seen in the third part of the miniseries ‘North and South’. The same year, he was also seen in the TV series ‘Commish’.
In 1997, he was seen in the TV series ‘The Promised Land’. The same year, he also had a notable role in the supernatural drama TV series ‘Touched by an Angel’. He portrayed an angel named Taylor, who has Down syndrome. His last works on television were the TV police drama series ‘The Division’ and the medical drama series ‘ER’ in 2002.
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Down Syndrome Advocacy
Chris Burke has been the National Down Syndrome Society’s Goodwill Ambassador since 1994. He travels the country attending Buddy Walks, makes public appearances as well as speaks with journalists and greets fans. He also works in the National Down Syndrome Society’s New York City office.
He delivers speeches around the world, in schools, seminar halls, conferences, and non-profit organizations. He has also created a musical group along with Joe and John DeMasi. They have released four albums and several songs.
He has also co-written an autobiography named ‘A Special Kind of Hero’ (1991) with Jo Beth McDaniel. He has worked as the editor-in-chief of the publications ‘News ‘n Views’ and ‘UpBeat’. Both are written for and by people with Down syndrome.
Family & Personal Life
Chris Burke was born on 26th August 1965, in Point Lookout, New York City. His parents are Marian Burke, a retired trade-show manager, and Frank Burke, a retired inspector in the NYPD. He is the youngest of their four children.
As he was born with Down syndrome, his parents were told to institutionalize him. However, they raised him at home, with the help of his older siblings, JR, Ellen and Anne. His parents always supported him and encouraged him to pursue his passion.
He studied at Cardinal Cushing School and Training Centre in Hanover, Massachusetts. Later, he was transferred to Don Guanella School in Springfield and graduated in 1986.