Lennie Briscoe

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Det. Lennie Briscoe
Law & Order character
Lennie Briscoe - L&O.png
First appearance "Point of View" (L&O)
"The Abominable Showman" (TBJ)
Last appearance "C.O.D." (L&O)
"41 Shots" (TBJ)
Portrayed by Jerry Orbach
Time on show 1992–2004 (Law & Order)
1996-1999 (HLOTS)
1998 (Exiled: A Law & Order Movie)
1999–2000 (SVU)
2005 (Trial by Jury)
Seasons 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14 (L&O)
1 (TBJ)
Credited appearances 273 episodes (L&O)
3 episodes (HLOTS)
3 episodes (SVU)
1 episode (CI)
2 episodes (TBJ)
282 episodes (total)
Preceded by Phil Cerreta (L&O)
Succeeded by Joe Fontana (L&O)
Chris Ravell (TBJ)
Family Julia Briscoe (daughter)
Cathy Briscoe (daughter; deceased)
Unnamed brother
Ken Briscoe (nephew)
At least two unnamed grandchildren
Harry (uncle; deceased)
Unnamed ex-wives
Partner John Flynn
Mike Logan
Rey Curtis
Ed Green
Hector Salazar

Leonard W. "Lennie" Briscoe is a fictional character on NBC's long-running police procedural and legal drama television series Law & Order. He was created by Walon Green and René Balcer, and was portrayed by Jerry Orbach. He was featured on the show for 12 seasons, from 1992 to 2004; making him one of the longest-serving main characters in the series' 20-year-run history, as well as the longest-serving police detective on the show. He also appeared in three Law & Order spin-offs, and was part of the original cast of Law & Order: Trial by Jury, appearing in only the first two episodes due to Orbach's death. He appears in 282 episodes (273 episodes of Law & Order, two episodes of Law & Order: Trial by Jury, one episode of Law & Order: Criminal Intent, three episodes of Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, and three episodes of Homicide: Life on the Street), the TV movie Exiled and the Law & Order video games Dead on the Money, Double or Nothing, Justice is Served and Legacies.

Orbach's performance as Briscoe on the New York-based series was so popular that it resulted in him being declared a "Living Landmark" by the New York Landmarks Conservancy, along with fellow longtime series cast member Sam Waterston (who portrayed the equally popular law prosecutor Jack McCoy).[1]

Law & Order universe[edit]

Lennie Briscoe is introduced in the 1992 episode "Point of View" as the new senior detective in the New York City Police Department's 27th Detective Squad in the 27th Police Precinct's Station House.[2] His boss during his first season on the show is Capt. Donald Cragen (Dann Florek); a year later, Lt. Anita Van Buren (S. Epatha Merkerson) takes over the 27th Squad. He was previously assigned as a detective in the 116th Det. Squad in Queens.[3]

Briscoe joins the squad after Det. Mike Logan's (Chris Noth) partner, Sgt. Phil Cerreta (Paul Sorvino), is shot by a black market arms dealer and transfers to a desk job in another precinct.

After Logan is transferred to Staten Island in 1995,[4] Det. Rey Curtis (Benjamin Bratt) becomes Briscoe's partner.[5] Four years later, Curtis goes into early retirement to take care of his multiple sclerosis–stricken wife,[6] and he is replaced by Det. Ed Green (Jesse L. Martin) in 1999.[7]

Character biography[edit]

Lennie Briscoe grew up in the Meatpacking District of Manhattan.[8] He had a brother.[9] As a child, he attended P.S. 21, as his father had before him.[10] A veteran of two failed marriages, Briscoe has two daughters by his first wife, the elder Julia and the younger Cathy, and a nephew, Det. Ken Briscoe (played by Orbach's son, Chris). Cathy was born on June 23, 1971 and was murdered on March 4, 1998.[11] By 2002, he had at least two grandchildren.[12] He once walked into a bar and found his then wife kissing a man named Joe who lived down the street from them. He punched Joe several times and later claimed that he would have shot him if he had had his gun on him at the time.[13] Both of his marriages lasted for less than 11 years.[14]

His first assignment in the NYPD was at the 29th Precinct.[15] He used to work in Hell's Kitchen, Manhattan. He always wanted to own a bar.[16] When he was young, he considered studying at Brooklyn Law School[17] and parked cars at an "Atwater" club.[18] Briscoe began working in the NYPD homicide department in 1981.[19]

He is a recovering alcoholic. He often makes references to being a "friend of Bill W." which is a reference to his having attended Alcoholics Anonymous. His drinking harmed his family; he was often absent from his daughters' lives, and they have distant, fractious relationships with him as adults. Briscoe blames himself, especially when Cathy, a methamphetamine addict, is murdered by a drug dealer after she testifies against the dealer in court.[20] However, he finds closure when the drug dealer dies from a heroin overdose.[21] It is implied (although never explicitly stated) that Briscoe considered having the dealer killed. An old snitch of Briscoe's had offered to kill the dealer if Briscoe could get his charges reduced. Briscoe is later seen talking to the arresting officer about the snitch, but it is never confirmed if Briscoe did him the favor.[11] In the 1996 episode "Aftershock", after witnessing an execution from a case that he helped investigate, Briscoe falls off the wagon with disastrous results; A.D.A. Claire Kincaid (Jill Hennessy) is struck and killed by a drunk driver while driving him home from a bar.[22] The experience shakes him deeply, and he remains sober for the rest of his life.

Briscoe was raised Catholic, but is Jewish on his father's side and occasionally attends Jewish services as a courtesy to his first wife.[23] His father served in the United States Army during World War II and helped to liberate a Nazi concentration camp in German occupied Poland.[24] Briscoe's father suffered from Alzheimer's and had died by 1994.[25] Briscoe did not get along with his father and once described him as a "schmuck". Nevertheless, he took several days off when he died.[26] In 1997, his mother was living in Florida.[27] She was still alive in 2003.[28] In 2002, his daughter Julia was likewise living in Florida.[29] During Prohibition, his grandfather brewed gin in his bathtub and sold it door to door in milk bottles.[30]

Though not actually Jewish according to the traditional definition, Briscoe is sometimes the target of antisemitism from criminals and even some of his own colleagues and sometimes accused of "Jewish conspiracy" by criminal defense attorneys. Briscoe also develops a friendship with one of the few featured Jewish police officers during his tenure, John Munch (Richard Belzer), despite Munch's initial resentment when he discovers Briscoe had slept with his first wife Gwen.[31][32][33]

He mentions having voted for Al Gore in the 2000 U.S. presidential election.[34] He supported the Iraq War.[35]

Character highlights[edit]

Briscoe is one of many characters on the show to have served in the military; he was at one point a corporal in the United States Army. On several occasions he has referred to his service in the Vietnam War. After leaving the Army, Briscoe joined the NYPD in the 29th Precinct in Manhattan and walked a beat there with stops at the 31st and 33rd Precincts, also in Manhattan, and the 110th and 116th Precincts in Queens, at some point reaching the rank of detective. It is also revealed in the 1999 episode "Marathon", that he spent three years in the Anti-Crime Unit. Briscoe's detective shield number is 8220.

Briscoe typically has a wise-crack or joke about the victim or circumstances of death at the close of the opening scene, with the joke usually exhibiting a very deadpan delivery while at the same time being highly "on target." He likes music, but mostly music that was popular in his youth. In one episode, Curtis chides his musical taste for stopping with Bobby Darin.[36] Briscoe used to read Langston Hughes back when he was a beatnik "for about five minutes" and "it used to work pretty good on Jewish girls."[37]

Many of Briscoe's former partners and colleagues outside the series (offscreen before Briscoe joined the 27th Precinct) have been or ended up becoming corrupt. In the 1993 episode "Jurisdiction", Lieutenant Brian Torelli (Dan Hedaya) forced a confession from a mentally handicapped man; at the end of the episode Briscoe is present when Internal Affairs arrests Torelli for suborning perjury and obstruction of justice.[38]

In the 1994 episode "Kids", the son of police Detective Ted Parker, a former colleague of Briscoe, is arrested for shooting another teenager. Parker and Briscoe have a private conversation where Parker, speaking hypothetically, essentially confesses to Briscoe that his son only shot in self-defense. At the end of the episode, Parker acknowledges to Briscoe that he used his contacts in his old precinct to engineer the shooting death of a key prosecution witness in his son's case (resulting in a mistrial).[39]

Another of Briscoe's former partners, Detective John Flynn (Kevin Conway), falsely implicates him in the 1996 episode "Corruption" for taking seized drugs from the 116th Precinct evidence room (given to him by Flynn) during their stint there several years before. Flynn makes this allegation partly to throw off the Hellman Commission, which had been convened to investigate police corruption, including the questionable shooting death of a suspect by Flynn himself at the start of the episode, and partly as revenge against Curtis, who refused to falsely defend Flynn. Briscoe, however, has an alibi—he was having an affair with Officer Betty Abrams (Caroline Kava), a married woman. Against Briscoe's wishes, Abrams testifies before the commission to exonerate him. Because of the affair, however, the commissioners question her credibility. Briscoe finally gets the truth out of Flynn with a hidden wire, but Flynn commits suicide before he can be further prosecuted.[3] Although Briscoe is ultimately cleared, defense attorneys exploit the allegations for the rest of his career.[20][40][11][41]

In the 2000 episode "Amends", Briscoe has another reunion with one of his former colleagues that opens up some ugly history. While investigating a 20-year-old cold case, Briscoe learns that one of his former bosses, Tommy Brannigan (Brad Sullivan), had been convinced by his superior to accept bribes that helped promote him to lieutenant in exchange for letting a murder suspect go free. The now-retired Brannigan ultimately confesses to this in court, which helps Jack McCoy in convicting the suspect of the cold case. Later, Briscoe visits Brannigan at his home, partly fearing that his old friend may have killed himself (just like Flynn) over his shame, but to his relief finds Brannigan alive and well repairing his lawnmower. When Brannigan asks Briscoe if he forgives him for what he had done, Briscoe replies "All day long, Tommy. All day long."[42]

There are moments in Briscoe's career where his decisions are controversial. In the 1998 episode "Stalker", a stalker accused of murdering a woman could have gone free because the police concluded that the victim had earlier lied to the police about previously being attacked by the stalker, thereby undermining the victim's credibility. However, after the victim is found murdered, Briscoe approaches McCoy and tells him that he now believes that the victim did not lie to the police of the stalker's earlier attacks and that he is willing to take the stand and state that the original police report was incorrect. His then-partner Rey Curtis was called by the defense to testify that he thought the original police report was correct. At the end of the episode, the stalker is found guilty; outside the courtroom, Curtis and Briscoe reconcile.[43]

Shortly after Ed Green is assigned as his partner, he and Briscoe nearly come to blows during a particularly difficult investigation of a robbery-homicide in the 1999 episode "Marathon". Their primary suspect confesses as he is being arrested, but because Briscoe is the only officer within earshot, Green, Van Buren and McCoy are placed in a difficult position with regard to the confession. Again, Briscoe is eventually vindicated, and he and Green work to rebuild their professional rapport and what eventually ends up as a close friendship.[44]

Briscoe retires in the 2004 episode "C.O.D." after 12 years at the 27th Precinct and more than 30 years in the NYPD.[45] His successor at the 27th Precinct is Det. Joe Fontana (Dennis Farina), whose stint there would be far shorter than Briscoe's.

Briscoe died at some point between 2004 and 2005 (Orbach himself died on December 28, 2004). Although not addressed directly in the main series until 2008, his death was implied in 2005 and confirmed in 2007 in Criminal Intent (see "Death" section below).


On the first season of Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, Briscoe makes three guest appearances assisting his old boss, Captain Cragen. Briscoe also makes a guest appearance in the Law & Order: Criminal Intent episode "Poison", in which he assists the Major Case Squad on a similar case. He also appeared in three episodes on Homicide: Life on the Street.

Soon after his retirement, Briscoe joins Law & Order: Trial by Jury, having accepted an appointment as an investigator in the office of New York County District Attorney Arthur Branch (Fred Thompson), with partner Inv. Hector Salazar (Kirk Acevedo). He appears in only the first two episodes of this series - "The Abominable Showman" and "41 Shots".


  • Homicide: Life on the Street
    • Season Four
      • Episode 12: "For God and Country"
    • Season Six
      • Episode 5: "Baby, It's You"
    • Season Seven
      • Episode 15: "Sideshow"
  • Law & Order: Special Victims Unit
    • Season One
      • Episode 3: "Or Just Look Like One"
      • Episode 4: "Hysteria"
      • Episode 15: "Entitled"
  • Law & Order: Criminal Intent
    • Season One
      • Episode 7: "Poison"


In 2005, the Lennie Briscoe character was written out after the second episode of Trial By Jury coinciding with Orbach's death on December 28, 2004 from prostate cancer. The character's departure from the show was originally to be in the episode "Baby Boom" where members of the DA's Office attend a memorial service for him. This scene was in fact filmed but never actually made it into the episode before its airing.

In the 2005 Law & Order: Criminal Intent episode "Diamond Dogs", Mike Logan, questioning a burglar's fence in a pool hall, is clearly referring to Briscoe when he says that a former partner was a "wizard with the stick".[46] In the 2007 Criminal Intent episode "Renewal", Logan says that Briscoe has died but he still sees him alive in his dreams.[47]

In the 2008 Law & Order episode "Burn Card", Ed Green says that he returned to gambling briefly after Briscoe died.[48] In the 2008 Criminal Intent episode "Last Rites", a Catholic priest who had known Briscoe approaches Logan after a prisoner's deathbed confession to a 16-year-old double murder in The Bronx.[49]

In the 2009 Law & Order episode "Fed", Rey Curtis returns to New York to bury his deceased wife Deborah, who had finally succumbed to multiple sclerosis, next to her parents. He reveals to Lieutenant Van Buren that he had spoken with Briscoe a few days before his death, and that he was his old wisecracking self right up to the end.



  1. ^ [1]. New York Landmarks Conservancy.
  2. ^ Law & Order episode "Point of View", originally aired November 25, 1992.
  3. ^ a b Law & Order episode "Corruption", originally aired October 30, 1996.
  4. ^ Law & Order episode "Pride", originally aired May 24, 1995.
  5. ^ Law & Order episode "Bitter Fruit", originally aired September 20, 1995.
  6. ^ Law & Order episode "Refuge (2)", originally aired May 26, 1999.
  7. ^ Law & Order episode "Gunshow", originally aired September 22, 1999.
  8. ^ Law & Order episode "The Ring", originally aired November 6, 2002.
  9. ^ Law & Order episode "Blaze", originally aired October 29, 2003.
  10. ^ Law & Order episode "Kid Pro Quo", originally aired April 30, 2003.
  11. ^ a b c Law & Order episode "Monster", originally aired May 20, 1998.
  12. ^ Law & Order episode "Asterisk", originally aired November 27, 2002.
  13. ^ Law & Order episode "Ill-Conceived", originally aired December 3, 2003.
  14. ^ Law & Order episode "C.O.D.", originally aired May 19, 2004.
  15. ^ Law & Order: Trial by Jury episode "41 Shots", originally aired March 4, 2005.
  16. ^ Homicide: Life on the Street episode "For God and Country", originally aired February 9, 1996.
  17. ^ Law & Order episode "Nowhere Man", originally aired March 31, 2004.
  18. ^ Law & Order episode "Censure", originally aired February 2, 1994.
  19. ^ Law & Order episode "Charm City", originally aired February 7, 1996.
  20. ^ a b Law & Order episode "Damaged", originally aired May 6, 1998.
  21. ^ Law & Order episode "Hate", originally aired January 6, 1999.
  22. ^ Law & Order episode "Aftershock", originally aired May 22, 1996.
  23. ^ Law & Order episode "Blood Libel", originally aired January 3, 1996.
  24. ^ Law & Order episode "Night and Fog", originally aired February 3, 1993.
  25. ^ Law & Order episode "Golden Years", originally aired January 5, 1994.
  26. ^ Law & Order episode "Hitman", originally aired November 13, 2002.
  27. ^ Law & Order episode "Past Imperfect", originally aired May 14, 1997.
  28. ^ Law & Order episode "Compassion", originally aired November 26, 2003.
  29. ^ Law & Order episode "American Jihad", originally aired October 2, 2002
  30. ^ Law & Order episode "High & Low", originally aired May 17, 2000.
  31. ^ Homicide: Life on the Street episode "For God and Country", originally aired February 9, 1996.
  32. ^ Law & Order episode "Baby, It's You, Part I", originally aired November 12, 1997.
  33. ^ Homicide: Life on the Street episode "Baby, It's You, Part II", originally aired November 14, 1997.
  34. ^ Law & Order episode "Hitman", originally aired November 13, 2002.
  35. ^ Law & Order episode "Embedded", originally aired November 19, 2003.
  36. ^ Law & Order episode "Tabula Rasa", originally aired April 21, 1999
  37. ^ Law & Order episode "Slave", originally aired April 21, 1996.
  38. ^ Law & Order episode "Jurisdiction", originally aired March 3, 1993.
  39. ^ Law & Order episode "Kids", originally aired February 9, 1994.
  40. ^ Law & Order episode "Sideshow", originally aired February 17, 1999.
  41. ^ Law & Order episode "Under the Influence", originally aired January 7, 1998.
  42. ^ Law & Order episode "Amends", originally aired November 29, 2000
  43. ^ Law & Order episode "Stalker", originally aired April 15, 1998.
  44. ^ Law & Order episode "Marathon", originally aired November 17, 1999.
  45. ^ Law & Order episode "C.O.D.", originally aired May 19, 2004.
  46. ^ Law & Order: Criminal Intent episode "Diamond Dogs", aired October 2, 2005.
  47. ^ Law & Order: Criminal Intent episode "Renewal", originally aired May 21, 2007.
  48. ^ Law & Order episode "Burn Card", originally aired April 23, 2008.
  49. ^ Law & Order: Criminal Intent episode "Last Rites", originally aired August 17, 2008.
  50. ^ "The 100 Greatest TV Characters". Bravo TV. Archived from the original on 2006-10-14. Retrieved 2006-10-18. 
  51. ^ Magnum Mania! - America's Top Sleuths
  52. ^ "TV's Smartest Detectives". AOL TV. November 18, 2011. Retrieved February 3, 2013. 
  53. ^ TV Guide Book of Lists. Running Press. 2007. p. 218. ISBN 0-7624-3007-9.