Jerry Orbach

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Jerry Orbach
Jerry Orbach 1965 press photo.JPG
Orbach in a 1965 publicity photo
BornJerome Bernard Orbach
(1935-10-20)October 20, 1935
Bronx, New York, U.S.
DiedDecember 28, 2004(2004-12-28) (aged 69)
New York, New York, U.S.
Cause of death
Prostate cancer
OccupationActor, singer
Years active1955–2004
Spouse(s)Marta Curro (1958–1975; divorced); 2 children)
Elaine Cancilla (1979–2004; [his death])
ChildrenAnthony Nicholas
Christopher Benjamin
AwardsTony Award
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Jerry Orbach
Jerry Orbach 1965 press photo.JPG
Orbach in a 1965 publicity photo
BornJerome Bernard Orbach
(1935-10-20)October 20, 1935
Bronx, New York, U.S.
DiedDecember 28, 2004(2004-12-28) (aged 69)
New York, New York, U.S.
Cause of death
Prostate cancer
OccupationActor, singer
Years active1955–2004
Spouse(s)Marta Curro (1958–1975; divorced); 2 children)
Elaine Cancilla (1979–2004; [his death])
ChildrenAnthony Nicholas
Christopher Benjamin
AwardsTony Award

Jerome Bernard "Jerry" Orbach (October 20, 1935 – December 28, 2004) was an American actor and singer, known on television for his starring role as Detective Lennie Briscoe in Law & Order and his recurring role as Harry McGraw in Murder, She Wrote, as well as for film roles such as Detective Gus Levy in Prince of the City, Dr. Jake Houseman in Dirty Dancing and the voice of Lumière in Disney's Beauty and the Beast. Orbach was equally noted as a musical theatre star, creating roles such as El Gallo in The Fantasticks, the longest-running musical play in history;[1] Chuck Baxter in Promises, Promises (for which he won a Tony Award); Julian Marsh in 42nd Street; and Billy Flynn in Chicago.

Early life[edit]

Orbach was born in the Bronx, the only child of Emily (née Olexy), a greeting card manufacturer and radio singer, and Leon Orbach, a restaurant manager and vaudeville performer.[2] His father was a Jewish immigrant from Hamburg, Germany.[3][4] His mother, a native of Pennsylvania, was a Roman Catholic of Polish descent, and Orbach was raised in her faith (a religious background later replicated in his character on Law & Order).[5][6] Throughout his childhood, the Orbach family moved frequently, living in Mount Vernon, New York; Wilkes-Barre, Nanticoke, and Scranton, Pennsylvania; Springfield, Massachusetts; and Waukegan, Illinois. Orbach attended Waukegan High School in Illinois and graduated in 1952.[7][8] He played on the football team and began learning acting in a speech class.[9] The summer after graduating from high school, Orbach worked at the theatre of Chevy Chase Country Club of Wheeling, Illinois and enrolled at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign in the fall. In 1953, Orbach returned to the Chicago area and enrolled at Northwestern University. Orbach left Northwestern before his senior year and moved to New York City in 1955 to pursue acting and to study at the Actors Studio, where one of his instructors was the studio's founder, Lee Strasberg.[9]


Orbach (right) as Billy Flynn in the original 1975 Broadway production of Chicago.

Orbach was an accomplished Broadway and Off Broadway actor. His first major role was El Gallo in the original cast of the decades-running hit The Fantasticks, and Orbach became the first to perform the show's signature song and pop standard "Try To Remember".[10] He also starred in The Threepenny Opera, Carnival!, the musical version of the movie Lili (his Broadway debut), in a revival of Guys and Dolls (as Sky Masterson, receiving a Tony Award nomination for Best Featured Actor in a Musical), Promises, Promises (as Chuck, receiving a Tony Award for Best Actor in a Musical), the original productions of Chicago (as Billy Flynn, receiving a Tony Award nomination for Best Actor in a Musical), 42nd Street, and a revival of The Cradle Will Rock. Orbach made occasional film and TV appearances into the 1970s.

In the 1980s, he shifted to film and TV work full-time. Prominent roles included a superb performance as tough, effective, but "allegedly corrupt" NYPD officer Gus Levy in Sidney Lumet's Prince of the City; he was the 1981 runner-up for the NSFC Best Supporting Actor award. He also portrayed a gangster in the Woody Allen drama Crimes and Misdemeanors. In 1985, he became a regular guest star as a private detective on Murder, She Wrote, which led to him starring in the short-lived 1987 crime drama The Law and Harry McGraw. Also in 1987, he portrayed Dr. Jake Houseman, Jennifer Grey's father in the classic Dirty Dancing. Orbach has appeared as a celebrity panelist on both What's My Line? and Super Password, and guest starred on the sitcom The Golden Girls.

In 1991, Orbach starred in the Academy Award-winning animated musical Beauty and the Beast, as the voice (both singing and speaking) of the candelabrum Lumière, a role he would reprise in the film's direct-to-video sequels. That same year, he played an NYPD police lieutenant of detectives in Steven Seagal's Out for Justice and appeared as a defense attorney in the Law & Order episode "The Wages of Love". In 1992, Orbach joined the main cast of Law & Order as world-weary, wisecracking, streetwise NYPD police detective Lennie Briscoe.[11] He remained on the show until shortly before his death in 2004 and became one of its most popular characters (he was the third longest-lasting cast member of the series, behind S. Epatha Merkerson and Sam Waterston). TV Guide named Lennie Briscoe one of their top 50 television detectives of all-time.[12] Orbach was signed to continue in the role on Law & Order: Trial by Jury, but appeared in only the first two episodes of the series. Both episodes aired in March 2005, after his death. The fifth episode of the series, "Baby Boom", and the Law & Order: Criminal Intent episode, "View from Up Here", were dedicated to his memory, while the ending of the Law & Order episode "Mammon" featured a pictorial memorial in honor of Orbach.

Personal life and death[edit]

Orbach was married in 1958 to Marta Curro, with whom he had two sons, Anthony Nicholas and Christopher Benjamin; they divorced in 1975. Elder son Tony is a crossword puzzle constructor for The New York Times and also guest starred on the Law & Order episode "Doubles" as a reporter. Younger son Chris Orbach, who is an actor and singer, played Lennie Briscoe's nephew Ken Briscoe on Law & Order: Special Victims Unit. In 1979, Jerry Orbach married Broadway dancer Elaine Cancilla, whom he met while starring in Chicago.

Orbach lived in a high-rise on 53rd Street off Eighth Avenue in Hell's Kitchen and was a fixture in that neighborhood's restaurants and shops.[13] His glossy publicity photo hangs in Ms. Buffy's French Cleaners, and he was a regular at some of the Italian restaurants nearby. As of 2007, the intersection of 8th Avenue and 53rd Street was renamed in honor of Orbach. The plans met with some resistance by local planning boards, but were overcome thanks to his popularity and his love of the Big Apple.[14]

In early December 2004, it was announced that Orbach had been receiving treatment for prostate cancer since the spring of that year (around the same time that he had left Law & Order). He died at the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York on December 28, 2004, at the age of 69. His agent, Robert Malcolm, announced at the time of his death that Orbach's prostate cancer had been diagnosed more than 10 years before. The day after his death, the marquees on Broadway were dimmed in mourning, one of the highest honors of the American theatre world. In addition to his sons, wife and ex-wife, Orbach was survived by his mother and two grandchildren, Peter and Sarah Kate Orbach, his older son Tony's children. His mother died on July 28, 2012, at the age of 101.[15] The Law & Order season 14 episode "C.O.D.", the last episode of the series featuring Orbach, was re-aired on NBC in his memory on December 29, 2004. Having had perfect 20/20 vision his whole life, one of his wishes while he was alive was to have his eyes donated after his death. His wish was granted when two individuals – one who needed correction for a nearsighted eye and another who needed correction for a farsighted eye – received Orbach's corneas. His likeness has been used in an ad campaign for Eye Bank for Sight Restoration in Manhattan. The interment of his remains was at Trinity Church Cemetery.[citation needed]


In addition to his Tony Award and nominations, Jerry Orbach is also a member of the American Theater Hall of Fame, having been inducted in 1999.[16] Three years later, Orbach was named a "Living Landmark", along with fellow Law & Order castmate Sam Waterston, by the New York Landmarks Conservancy in 2002. He quipped that the honor meant "that they can't tear me down". On February 5, 2005, he was posthumously awarded a Screen Actors Guild Award for Outstanding Performance by a Male Actor in a Drama Series, for his 12-year-long role on Law & Order.[17]

On September 18, 2007, a portion of 53rd Street, near Eighth Avenue, in New York City, was renamed in Orbach's honor as Jerry Orbach Way.[18]

Also in 2007, the Jerry Orbach Theatre was named for him in the Snapple Theater Center on 50th Street and Broadway, in New York City. The naming occurred as a tribute to him during a revival of The Fantasticks at the theatre.

From others[edit]

Law & Order executive producer René Balcer was quoted in the Wall Street Journal on May 21, 2010: "I always think about the show as before Jerry and after Jerry...You saw the weariness of 25 years of crime-fighting in New York written on his face."[19]

Author Kurt Vonnegut was a fan of Orbach, and during an Australian radio interview in 2005, he said, "People have asked me, you know, 'Who would you rather be, than yourself?', and he replied "Jerry Orbach, without a question...I talked to him one time, and he's adorable."[20]

Patrick Swayze once said in an interview:

With Jerry Orbach, his life in many ways has paralleled mine. We were on a certain level, born into musical theatre. And as time goes on... for my training in musical theatre, I considered that was the school of presentational acting. When I was gonna transition into film acting, all of sudden I had to learn what organic looked like. Jerry Orbach has been one of the most successful actors who ever lived to make that transition from musical theatre into real, organic, break-your-heart kinds of reality in his work as a film actor, but transition back and forth seamlessly. I just did Billy Flynn in Chicago, which Jerry Orbach originated, which felt like a legacy to me. But it was a very interesting time for me, when I was shooting Dirty Dancing, I think probably the eyes I trusted if I was real, and it worked, and I had nailed it, was Jerry Orbach's eyes. I would go over to him and under my breath 'What did you think?' and he goes "No, go there further, I think there's more you can get'. He would say little things like "courage", and it gives me goosebumps to say that. I really, really respected that man. I watched his career from the time I was little. I think it was a great loss when he passed.[21]

Former co-worker Elisabeth Röhm was asked about any crazy memories she had of Orbach at the 2007 Dragon Con:

You know, it's hard to say a specific, kind of crazy story, because Jerry was all about golf. The first day I showed up to work, he was like "Hey kid, I got a golf game, so I hope you're gonna get it done quick," and I was like "Alright...". But that was one of the great things I learned from Jerry, is to like... number one, no matter how lucky or how special we are to do what we do, Jerry taught me it's a job. And so I went from being like "I'm an actress" to "I've had a great job and I love my job and I'm lucky that I got a job that I love with all my heart and I didn't wimp out and say I'm not gonna go after my dreams, but my job isn't any better than anyone else's job." That's what I learned from Jerry. Jerry was a human being first, and he loved his job and it paid him well... better than me... he was not better than anyone else because he was famous or because he was an actor and he touched people's hearts, he was just a regular guy. That's why the show is good. Because, here he was, this regular guy. you believed he was this regular guy. You believed he was a cop. He was just somebody you felt like if you sat down and had coffee with him, he wouldn't be like "I don't have time for this"... he wouldn't be like that, he was so warm and so charming. You know what's interesting about Jerry and I, and I have to say I have put this in my back pocket and from everybody I have ever worked with I've learned something really important is everybody has their disappointment and pain and nobody's life is perfect. And I suppose that's a good thing so you don't feel bad about the things that are going on or aren't working out and taking them too seriously. For instance, just like with Sam Waterston, he has his sob story about why he's not Robert Redford. Jerry's is why he's not Al Pacino and the grass is always greener and it looks like somebody else's life worked out tons better, but he'd be the first to say this is what's meant for me. He worked his ass off and he was in the right movies, and he did all the right things, even a little bit for him, some of his dreams he didn't achieve. So it's never perfect. He was really real in that way.



1955-1961The Threepenny OperaStreetsinger
1960The FantasticksEl Gallo
1964The Cradle Will RockLarry Foreman
1965Guys and DollsSky MastersonNominated—Tony Award for Best Featured Actor in a Musical
1966Annie Get Your GunCharlie Davenport
1967The Natural LookMalcolm
1967Scuba DubaHarold Wonder
1968-1972Promises, PromisesChuck BaxterDrama Desk Award for Outstanding Actor in a Musical
Tony Award for Best Actor in a Musical
1972-19736 Rms Riv VuPaul Friedman
1975-1977ChicagoBilly FlynnNominated—Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Actor in a Musical
Nominated—Tony Award for Best Actor in a Musical
1980-198942nd StreetJulian Marsh


1955Guys and DollsBarbershop extraUncredited
1955MartyBallroom extraUncredited
1958Cop HaterGang Leader
1961Mad Dog CollJoe Clegg
1961Twenty-Four Hours in a Woman's LifeCristoffTelevision movie
1964Ensign PulverUnknown
1965John Goldfarb, Please Come HomePinkerton
1967Annie Get Your GunCharles DavenportTelevision movie
1971The Gang That Couldn't Shoot StraightKid Sally
1972A Fan's NotesFred
1975Fore PlayJerry Lorsey
1977The SentinelMichael Dayton
1981Underground AcesHerbert Penlittle
1981Prince of the CityDet. Gus LevyNominated—National Society of Film Critics Award for Best Supporting Actor
Nominated—New York Film Critics Circle Award for Best Supporting Actor
1983The Special Magic of Herself the ElfKing ThornTelevision movie
1983An Invasion of PrivacySam BianchiTelevision movie
1985Brewster's MillionsCharlie Pegler
1986The ImagemakerByron Caine
1986F/XNicolas DeFranco
1986Dream WestCapt. John StutterTelevision movie
1987Dirty DancingDr. Jake Houseman
1987Someone to Watch Over MeLt. Garber
1987Out on a LimbMort VinerTelevision movie
1987Love Among ThievesSpicerTelevision movie
1988I Love N.Y.Leo
1989Last Exit to BrooklynBoyce
1989Perry Mason: The Case of the Musical MurderBlaine CounterTelevision movie
1989The Flamingo KidPhil BrodyTelevision short
1989Crimes and MisdemeanorsJack Rosenthal
1990Kojak: None So BlindTony SalducciTelevision movie
1990In Defense of a Married ManAlan MichaelsonTelevision movie
1991Perry Mason: The Case of the Ruthless ReporterVic St. JohnTelevision movie
1991Dead Women in LingerieBartoli
1991California CasanovaConstantin Rominoffski
1991Out for JusticeCapt. Ronnie Dozinger
1991Toy SoldiersAlbert TrottaUncredited
1991DeliriousLou Sherwood
1991Beauty and the BeastLumière
1992A Gnome Named GnormUnknown
1992Straight TalkMilo Jacoby
1992Neil Simon's Broadway BoundJack JeromeTelevision movie
Nominated—Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Miniseries or a Movie
1992Quiet KillerDr. Vincent CalifanoTelevision movie
1992MastergateClifton ByersTelevision movie
1992Universal SoldierDr. Christopher Gregor
1992Mr. Saturday NightPhil Gussman
1993The Cemetery ClubUnknownUncredited
1996Aladdin and the King of ThievesSa'lukDirect-to-video
1997Beauty and the Beast: The Enchanted ChristmasLumièreDirect-to-video
1998Beauty and the Beast: Belle's Magical WorldLumièreDirect-to-video
1998Exiled: A Law & Order MovieDet. Lennie BriscoeTelevision movie
2000The Acting ClassUnknown
2000Chinese CoffeeJake Manheim
2000Prince of Central ParkBusinessmes
2002Manna from HeavenWaltz Contest Announcer
2003Broadway: The Golden Age, by the Legends Who Were ThereHimself
2003Try to Remember: The FantasticksHimself
2003Mickey's PhilharMagicLumièreShort film
2004ProtestersPolice Investigator


1973Love American StyleHomerEpisode: "Love and the Hoodwinked Honey"
1975Medical CenterJoshEpisode: "The Captives"
1975KojakBrubakerEpisode: "A Question of Answers"
1980Buck Rogers in the 25th CenturyLars MangrosEpisode: "Space Rockers"
1985Our Family HonorBrian Merrick2 episodes
1985-1991Murder, She WroteHarry McGraw6 episodes
1986The Adventures of the Galaxy RangersZachary Foxx7 episodes
1987Tales from the DarksideRobertEpisode: "Everybody Needs a Little Love"
1987-1988The Law and Harry McGrawHarry McGraw16 episodes
1988Simon & SimonHarrison/Malcolm Stanley IIIEpisode: "Ain't Gonna Get It From Me, Jack"
1990HunterSal ScarlattiEpisode: "Son and Heir"
1990The Golden GirlsGlen O'BrienEpisode: "Cheaters"
Nominated—Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Guest Actor in a Comedy Series
1990Who's the Boss?NickEpisode: "Starlight Memories"
1991Law & OrderFrank LehrmannEpisode: "The Wages of Love"
1992Empty NestArthur2 episodes
1992-2004Law & OrderDet. Lennie Briscoe274 episodes
Screen Actors Guild Award for Outstanding Performance by a Male Actor in a Drama Series
Nominated—Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama Series
Nominated—Screen Actors Guild Award for Outstanding Performance by an Ensemble in a Drama Series (1995-2004)
Nominated—Viewers for Quality Television Award for Best Supporting Actor in a Quality Drama Series (1998-2000)
1996FrasierMitchEpisode: "High Crane Drifter"
1996-1999Homicide: Life on the StreetDet. Lennie Briscoe3 episodes
1999-2000Law & Order: Special Victims UnitDet. Lennie Briscoe3 episodes
2001Law & Order: Criminal IntentDet. Lennie BriscoeEpisode: "Poison"
2001-2002Disney's House of MouseLumière9 episodes
2005Law & Order: Trial by JuryDet. Lennie Briscoe2 episodes

Video games[edit]

2002Law & Order: Dead on the MoneyDet. Lennie Briscoe
2003Law & Order: Double or NothingDet. Lennie Briscoe
2004Law & Order: Justice is ServedDet. Lennie Briscoe


His love poems to his wife Elaine were published in Remember How I Love You: Love Letters from an Extraordinary Marriage (Touchstone, 2009).[22] Another biography, Jerry Orbach, Prince of the City: His Way From The Fantasticks to Law & Order by John Anthony Gilvey, was published on May 1, 2011.[23]


  1. ^ Dziemianowicz, Joe (September 15, 2013). "Long-running Off-Broadway show 'The Fantasticks' hits its 20,000th performance". New York Daily News. Retrieved January 16, 2014. 
  2. ^ Jerry Orbach profile,; accessed January 16, 2014.
  3. ^ Orbach had stated that his father was descended from Sephardic refugees from the Spanish Inquisition
  4. ^ Brady, James (February 27, 1994), "In Step With...Jerry Orbach", Parade Magazine: 26 
  5. ^ Horwitz, Simi (February 28, 1993). "Jerry Orbach; His `Law & Order' Role Fits Him Like a Glove". The Washington Post.  Reprinted in the South Florida Sun-Sentinel on April 7, 1993 as "Orbach Gives `Law & Order` Seedy Side" and Bangor Daily News on March 6, 1993 as "Orbach likes new role as cynical cop."
  6. ^ Hiltbrand, David (January 4, 2004). "Jerry Orbach gets his due on the sidewalks of New York". The Boston Globe. Knight Ridder. Retrieved April 12, 2013. 
  7. ^ Thompson, Lorraine (December 31, 2004). "Local woman went to school with actor". St. Augustine Record. Retrieved April 12, 2013. 
  8. ^ Brantley, Ben; Severo, Richard (December 29, 2004). "Jerry Orbach, Star of 'Law & Order', Dies at 69". The New York Times. Retrieved April 12, 2013. 
  9. ^ a b "Jerry Orbach". A&E Networks. Retrieved April 12, 2013. 
  10. ^ McLellan, Dennis (December 30, 2004). "Jerry Orbach, 69; Actor Portrayed Det. Briscoe on TV's "Law & Order"". Los Angeles Times. 
  11. ^ [1] The Associated Press, 12/29/2004
  12. ^ TV Guide Book of Lists. Running Press. 2007. p. 218. ISBN 0-7624-3007-9. 
  13. ^ Brantley, Ben; Severo, Richard. "Jerry Orbach, Stage and TV Actor, Is Dead at 69", The New York Times, December 30, 2004. Retrieved August 11, 2009.
  14. ^ NY Times article 3/7/07
  15. ^ Obituary for Jerry Orbach, New York Times; accessed January 16, 2014 at archive online]
  16. ^ "On Stage: New class of theater hall of famers". Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Retrieved February 13, 2014. 
  17. ^
  18. ^ Street renamed in Orbach's honor
  19. ^ Chosick, Amy and Gamerman, Ellen."'Law & Order' School of Drama"The Wall Street Journal, May 21, 2010
  20. ^ October 6, 2005. Kurt Vonnegut interviewed on ABC Radio National Audio by Phillip Adams. Available on the Slaughterhouse-Five Region 4 DVD, released by Umbrella Entertainment Pty Ltd in 2007
  21. ^ "Patrick Swayze Talks About Working With Jerry Orbach". American Film Institute. 
  22. ^ Orbach, Jerry; Orbach, Elaine; Waterson, Sam (November 3, 2009). Remember How I Love You: Love Letters from an Extraordinary Marriage. Touchstone. ISBN 978-1-4391-4988-1. 
  23. ^ John Anthony Gilvey (May 1, 2011). Jerry Orbach, Prince of the City: His Way from The Fantasticks to Law and Order. Hal Leonard Corporation. ISBN 978-1-4234-8845-3. 

External links[edit]