Orbach in a 1965 publicity photo
|Born||Jerome Bernard Orbach
October 20, 1935
Bronx, New York, U.S.
|Died||December 28, 2004
New York, New York, U.S.
Cause of death
|Spouse(s)||Marta Curro (1958–1975; divorced); 2 children)
Elaine Cancilla (1979–2004; [his death])
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; Chuck Baxter in Promises, Promises (for which he won a Tony Award); Julian Marsh in 42nd Street; and Billy Flynn in Chicago.
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. His father was a Jewish immigrant from Hamburg, Germany. 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). 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. He played on the football team and began learning acting in a speech class. 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.
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". 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. 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. 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
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. 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.
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. 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.
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. 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.
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.
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.
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."
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."
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.
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.
|1955-1961||The Threepenny Opera||Streetsinger|
|1960||The Fantasticks||El Gallo|
|1964||The Cradle Will Rock||Larry Foreman|
|1965||Guys and Dolls||Sky Masterson||Nominated—Tony Award for Best Featured Actor in a Musical|
|1966||Annie Get Your Gun||Charlie Davenport|
|1967||The Natural Look||Malcolm|
|1967||Scuba Duba||Harold Wonder|
|1968-1972||Promises, Promises||Chuck Baxter||Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Actor in a Musical
Tony Award for Best Actor in a Musical
|1972-1973||6 Rms Riv Vu||Paul Friedman|
|1975-1977||Chicago||Billy Flynn||Nominated—Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Actor in a Musical
Nominated—Tony Award for Best Actor in a Musical
|1980-1989||42nd Street||Julian Marsh|
|1955||Guys and Dolls||Barbershop extra||Uncredited|
|1958||Cop Hater||Gang Leader|
|1961||Mad Dog Coll||Joe Clegg|
|1961||Twenty-Four Hours in a Woman's Life||Cristoff||Television movie|
|1965||John Goldfarb, Please Come Home||Pinkerton|
|1967||Annie Get Your Gun||Charles Davenport||Television movie|
|1971||The Gang That Couldn't Shoot Straight||Kid Sally|
|1972||A Fan's Notes||Fred|
|1975||Fore Play||Jerry Lorsey|
|1977||The Sentinel||Michael Dayton|
|1981||Underground Aces||Herbert Penlittle|
|1981||Prince of the City||Det. Gus Levy||Nominated—National Society of Film Critics Award for Best Supporting Actor
Nominated—New York Film Critics Circle Award for Best Supporting Actor
|1983||The Special Magic of Herself the Elf||King Thorn||Television movie|
|1983||An Invasion of Privacy||Sam Bianchi||Television movie|
|1985||Brewster's Millions||Charlie Pegler|
|1986||The Imagemaker||Byron Caine|
|1986||Dream West||Capt. John Stutter||Television movie|
|1987||Dirty Dancing||Dr. Jake Houseman|
|1987||Someone to Watch Over Me||Lt. Garber|
|1987||Out on a Limb||Mort Viner||Television movie|
|1987||Love Among Thieves||Spicer||Television movie|
|1988||I Love N.Y.||Leo|
|1989||Last Exit to Brooklyn||Boyce|
|1989||Perry Mason: The Case of the Musical Murder||Blaine Counter||Television movie|
|1989||The Flamingo Kid||Phil Brody||Television short|
|1989||Crimes and Misdemeanors||Jack Rosenthal|
|1990||Kojak: None So Blind||Tony Salducci||Television movie|
|1990||In Defense of a Married Man||Alan Michaelson||Television movie|
|1991||Perry Mason: The Case of the Ruthless Reporter||Vic St. John||Television movie|
|1991||Dead Women in Lingerie||Bartoli|
|1991||California Casanova||Constantin Rominoffski|
|1991||Out for Justice||Capt. Ronnie Dozinger|
|1991||Toy Soldiers||Albert Trotta||Uncredited|
|1991||Beauty and the Beast||Lumière|
|1992||A Gnome Named Gnorm||Unknown|
|1992||Straight Talk||Milo Jacoby|
|1992||Neil Simon's Broadway Bound||Jack Jerome||Television movie
Nominated—Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Miniseries or a Movie
|1992||Quiet Killer||Dr. Vincent Califano||Television movie|
|1992||Mastergate||Clifton Byers||Television movie|
|1992||Universal Soldier||Dr. Christopher Gregor|
|1992||Mr. Saturday Night||Phil Gussman|
|1993||The Cemetery Club||Unknown||Uncredited|
|1996||Aladdin and the King of Thieves||Sa'luk||Direct-to-video|
|1997||Beauty and the Beast: The Enchanted Christmas||Lumière||Direct-to-video|
|1998||Beauty and the Beast: Belle's Magical World||Lumière||Direct-to-video|
|1998||Exiled: A Law & Order Movie||Det. Lennie Briscoe||Television movie|
|2000||The Acting Class||Unknown|
|2000||Chinese Coffee||Jake Manheim|
|2000||Prince of Central Park||Businessmes|
|2002||Manna from Heaven||Waltz Contest Announcer|
|2003||Broadway: The Golden Age, by the Legends Who Were There||Himself|
|2003||Try to Remember: The Fantasticks||Himself|
|2003||Mickey's PhilharMagic||Lumière||Short film|
|1973||Love American Style||Homer||Episode: "Love and the Hoodwinked Honey"|
|1975||Medical Center||Josh||Episode: "The Captives"|
|1975||Kojak||Brubaker||Episode: "A Question of Answers"|
|1980||Buck Rogers in the 25th Century||Lars Mangros||Episode: "Space Rockers"|
|1985||Our Family Honor||Brian Merrick||2 episodes|
|1985-1991||Murder, She Wrote||Harry McGraw||6 episodes|
|1986||The Adventures of the Galaxy Rangers||Zachary Foxx||7 episodes|
|1987||Tales from the Darkside||Robert||Episode: "Everybody Needs a Little Love"|
|1987-1988||The Law and Harry McGraw||Harry McGraw||16 episodes|
|1988||Simon & Simon||Harrison/Malcolm Stanley III||Episode: "Ain't Gonna Get It From Me, Jack"|
|1990||Hunter||Sal Scarlatti||Episode: "Son and Heir"|
|1990||The Golden Girls||Glen O'Brien||Episode: "Cheaters"
Nominated—Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Guest Actor in a Comedy Series
|1990||Who's the Boss?||Nick||Episode: "Starlight Memories"|
|1991||Law & Order||Frank Lehrmann||Episode: "The Wages of Love"|
|1992||Empty Nest||Arthur||2 episodes|
|1992-2004||Law & Order||Det. Lennie Briscoe||274 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)
|1996||Frasier||Mitch||Episode: "High Crane Drifter"|
|1996-1999||Homicide: Life on the Street||Det. Lennie Briscoe||3 episodes|
|1999-2000||Law & Order: Special Victims Unit||Det. Lennie Briscoe||3 episodes|
|2001||Law & Order: Criminal Intent||Det. Lennie Briscoe||Episode: "Poison"|
|2001-2002||Disney's House of Mouse||Lumière||9 episodes|
|2005||Law & Order: Trial by Jury||Det. Lennie Briscoe||2 episodes|
|2002||Law & Order: Dead on the Money||Det. Lennie Briscoe|
|2003||Law & Order: Double or Nothing||Det. Lennie Briscoe|
|2004||Law & Order: Justice is Served||Det. 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). 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.
- 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.
- Jerry Orbach profile, filmreference.com; accessed January 16, 2014.
- Orbach had stated that his father was descended from Sephardic refugees from the Spanish Inquisition
- Brady, James (February 27, 1994), "In Step With...Jerry Orbach", Parade Magazine: 26
- 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."
- 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.
- Thompson, Lorraine (December 31, 2004). "Local woman went to school with actor". St. Augustine Record. Retrieved April 12, 2013.
- Brantley, Ben; Severo, Richard (December 29, 2004). "Jerry Orbach, Star of 'Law & Order', Dies at 69". The New York Times. Retrieved April 12, 2013.
- "Jerry Orbach". biography.com. A&E Networks. Retrieved April 12, 2013.
- McLellan, Dennis (December 30, 2004). "Jerry Orbach, 69; Actor Portrayed Det. Briscoe on TV's "Law & Order"". Los Angeles Times.
-  The Associated Press, 12/29/2004
- TV Guide Book of Lists. Running Press. 2007. p. 218. ISBN 0-7624-3007-9.
- 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.
- NY Times article 3/7/07
- Obituary for Jerry Orbach, New York Times; accessed January 16, 2014 at legacy.com archive online]
- "On Stage: New class of theater hall of famers". Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Retrieved February 13, 2014.
- Street renamed in Orbach's honor
- Chosick, Amy and Gamerman, Ellen."'Law & Order' School of Drama"The Wall Street Journal, May 21, 2010
- 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
- "Patrick Swayze Talks About Working With Jerry Orbach". American Film Institute.
- 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.
- 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.
- Jerry Orbach at the Internet Movie Database
- Jerry Orbach at the Internet Broadway Database
- Jerry Orbach at the Internet Off-Broadway Database
- Jerry Orbach at Find a Grave
- Jerry Orbach obituary (The Washington Post)
- Biography and Interview from "Broadway; The American Musical"
- Jerry Orbach sings "Try to remember"
- Law and Order Star Jerry Orbach Dies MSNBC
- Jerry Orbach Memorial, Richard Rodgers Theater, March 24, 2005