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])
Screen Actors Guild Award
Jerome Bernard "Jerry" Orbach (October 20, 1935 – December 28, 2004) was an American actor and singer, described at his death as "one of the last bona fide leading men of the Broadway musical and global celebrity on television" and a "versatile stage and film actor".
Orbach's professional career began on the New York stage, both on and off-Broadway, where he created roles such as El Gallo in the original Off-Broadway run of The Fantasticks and became the first performer to sing that show's standard "Try To Remember", Billy Flynn in the original Chicago and Julian Marsh in the original 42nd Street. Nominated for multiple Tony Awards, Orbach won for his performance as Chuck Baxter in Promises, Promises.
Later in his career, Orbach played supporting roles in various films such as Prince of the City, Dirty Dancing, Crimes and Misdemeanors and Disney's Beauty and the Beast, and made multiple guest appearances on television; including a recurring role on Murder, She Wrote. However, he gained international fame for his starring role as Detective Lennie Briscoe on the long-running NBC crime drama series Law & Order.
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 Sephardic Jewish immigrant from Hamburg, Germany. His mother, a native of Pennsylvania, was a Roman Catholic of Polish-Lithuanian 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 and appeared as a celebrity panelist on both What's My Line? and Super Password.
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 private detective Harry McGraw 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 was featured in the hit film Dirty Dancing as Dr. Jake Houseman, the father of Jennifer Grey's character "Baby".
In 1991, Orbach starred in Disney's Academy Award-winning animated musical Beauty and the Beast, as the voice (both singing and speaking) of the candelabra Lumière; a role he would reprise in the film's direct-to-video sequels, multiple episodes of Disney's House of Mouse and the previously-deleted music number added to the Beauty and the Beast 2002 IMAX re-release. Also in 1991, he guest starred as a defense attorney in the Law & Order episode "The Wages of Love". He had previously auditioned twice for the lead role of "Senior Detective" on the series, but was passed over in favor of George Dzundza and later Paul Sorvino.
However, when Sorvino left the series in 1992, Orbach auditioned a third time and was cast of world-weary, wisecracking, streetwise NYPD detective Lennie Briscoe. He went on to star on Law & Order for twelve years (1992-2004); ultimately becoming the third longest-serving cast member (behind S. Epatha Merkerson and Sam Waterston) in the show's 20-year-run history, as well as arguably its most popular. During Orbach's tenure on Law & Order, the series became one of the highest-rated TV dramas of its time, won the 1997 Emmy Award for Outstanding Drama Series, made multiple crossover episodes with fellow NBC series Homicide: Life on the Street, and spawned the TV film Exiled: A Law & Order Movie, the spin-off series Law & Order: Special Victims Unit and Law & Order: Criminal Intent, and three video game adaptations. Orbach himself was nominated for a 2000 Emmy Award for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama Series (losing to James Gandolfini for The Sopranos). TV Guide named Lennie Briscoe one of their top 25 television detectives of all time.
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: SVU. 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 he had left Law & Order earlier that year. At the time, he was signed to continue in the role of Lennie Briscoe on Law & Order: Trial by Jury, but completed only the first two episodes of the series before he succumbed to his cancer 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, while NBC re-aired the Law & Order episode "C.O.D." (the last episode of the original series to feature Orbach) in his memory. The Trial by Jury episode "Baby Boom" and the Criminal Intent episode "View from Up Here" were dedicated to Orbach, and the Law & Order episode "Mammon" featured a pictorial memorial of him.
In addition to his sons, wife and ex-wife, Orbach was survived by his mother and two grandchildren, Peter and Sarah Kate Orbach, children of his older son Anthony (Tony). His mother died on July 28, 2012, at the age of 101. His second wife Elaine died in 2009 at the age of 69, and his ex-wife Marta Curro died in 2012 at the age of 79. Having had perfect 20/20 vision his whole life, Orbach requested while he was alive that his eyes be 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, in 2002, Orbach was named a "Living Landmark", along with his Law & Order co-star Sam Waterston, by the New York Landmarks Conservancy. 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 longtime role on Law & Order.
On September 18, 2007, a portion of New York City's 53rd Street near Eighth Avenue was renamed Jerry Orbach Way in his honor.
Also in 2007, the Jerry Orbach Theatre was named for him in the Snapple Theater Center at 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.
After Law & Order was cancelled in 2010, executive producer René Balcer told the Wall Street Journal: "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."
New York Times writers Ben Brantley and Richard Servero analyzed the breadth and scope of Orbach's career:
Whether singing "Try to Remember" as the dashing narrator of "The Fantasticks" in 1960 or trading barbs with fellow detectives and reluctant witnesses on television in recent years, Mr. Orbach exuded a wry, ragged masculinity that was all his own. As a star of musicals, he created a new kind of hero who was leagues away from suave, swaggering Adonises like John Raitt, Howard Keel and Alfred Drake... And he flourished at a time when the Broadway musical hero was fast becoming an endangered species... His rough-edged individuality may account for his endurance on the Broadway stage in an era when other promising musical actors - including Larry Kert, Robert Goulet and Robert Morse - proved unable to follow through on their breakthrough successes. Mr. Orbach may have been the last of a breed: no male star since has matched the breadth and continuity of his career in musicals... It wasn't until the 1990s, when he started appearing as Lennie Briscoe in "Law & Order," that Mr. Orbach became a familiar name throughout the country. The rough edge that distinguished him on Broadway eased his transition to character roles like Briscoe, the recovered alcoholic who seemed to greet the discovery of each episode's crime with a world-weary shrug.
Actor Patrick Swayze memorialized Orbach after his death:
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... 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, [were] 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.
|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||Beauty and the Beast: Special Edition||Lumière||IMAX release|
|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||Detective Leonard W. "Lennie" Briscoe||273 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||D.A. Investigator 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.
- Brantley, Ben; Severo, Richard. "Jerry Orbach, Stage and TV Actor, Is Dead at 69", The New York Times, December 30, 2004. Retrieved July 12, 2014
- Bernstein, Adam (December 30, 2004). "'Law & Order' Star Jerry Orbach Dies at 69". The Washington Post. Retrieved July 12, 2014.
- Gilvey, John Anthony (2011). Jerry Orbach:Prince of the City. Applause Theatre & Cinema Books. p. ix. ISBN 978-1423488453.
- Jones, Kenneth (2004), Tony-Winner Jerry Orbach Is Dead at 69, Playbill, retrieved July 12, 2014
-  The Associated Press, 12/29/2004
- 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.
- Law & Order: The Unofficial Companion (2nd ed.), pp. 120–122
-  Sydney Morning Herald, 10/7/2004
- "TV Ratings: 1994–1995". ClassicTVHits.com. Retrieved February 12, 2010.
- "I. T. R. S. Ranking Report: 01 Thru 210". ABC Medianet. Archived from the original on September 30, 2007. Retrieved February 12, 2010.
- 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
-  People, 12/2/2004
- 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
- Servero, Richard (December 29, 2004). "Jerry Orbach, Star of 'Law & Order,' Dies at 69". The New York Times. Retrieved July 12, 2014.
- "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" on YouTube
- Law and Order Star Jerry Orbach Dies MSNBC
- Jerry Orbach Memorial, Richard Rodgers Theater, March 24, 2005