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Jerome Bernard "Jerry" Orbach (October 20, 1935 – December 28, 2004) was an American actor and singer, well known for his starring role as Detective Lennie Briscoe in the Law & Order television series and as the voice of Lumière in Disney's Beauty and the Beast, as well as for being a noted musical theatre star; most notably Chuck Baxter in the original production of Promises, Promises (for which he won a Tony Award), Julian Marsh in 42nd Street, and Billy Flynn in the original production of Chicago.

Early life

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.[1] His father was from Hamburg, Germany (of Sephardic Jewish ancestry) and his mother was a Pennsylvania-born Polish American Catholic, and Orbach was raised Catholic (a religious background later replicated in his character on Law and Order).[2][3] 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. He studied drama at University of Illinois and Northwestern University and then went to New York, where he studied with Lee Strasberg at the Actors Studio.


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. 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. In 1955, he played an uncredited bit part in the movie version of Guys and Dolls[4] - he plays a barber shop customer during the musical number, "The Oldest Established," and is given a solo during one of the song's "Nathan, Nathan Detroit!!" choruses. Orbach made occasional film and TV appearances into the 1970s.

In the 1980s, he shifted to film and TV work on a more full-time basis. Prominent roles included a corrupt police detective in Sidney Lumet's Prince of the City; Jennifer Grey's father in Dirty Dancing; and a gangster in the Woody Allen drama Crimes and Misdemeanors. He starred in the short-lived 1987 crime drama The Law and Harry McGraw, in a role he later reprised as a regular guest star on Murder, She Wrote. He also appeared as a celebrity panelist on both What's My Line? and Super Password. He also 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 of the candelabrum Lumière, a role he would reprise in the film's direct-to-video sequels. He also voice acted the character for the video game spin-offs of the series. That same year, he played a police captain 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 police detective Lennie Briscoe. He remained on the show until 2004 and became one of its most popular characters. TV Guide named Briscoe as 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" was dedicated to his memory.

Personal life

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 Anthony (Tony) is a crossword puzzle constructor for The New York Times. His 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.[5] 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 had been met with some resistance by local planning boards, but these were overcome due to his popularity and love of the Big Apple.[6]

In early December 2004, it was announced that Orbach had been receiving treatment for prostate cancer since that spring; he died at the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York on December 28, 2004. Orbach was 69 years old. 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 and both wives, Orbach was survived by his mother Emily Orbach and two grandchildren, Peter and Sarah Kate Orbach, his older son Tony's children. His younger son, Chris Orbach, has neither wife nor children. "C.O.D.", the last Law & Order episode which Orbach appeared in May 2004, was re-aired in his memory on December 29, 2004.

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.[7] Orbach's likeness has been used in an ad campaign for Eye Bank for Sight Restoration in Manhattan. His interment was at Trinity Church Cemetery.

His widow Elaine Orbach died on April 1, 2009, from pneumonia at the age of 69.


In addition to his Tony Award and nominations, 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.

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.[8]

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

From others

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"[9]

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."[10]

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 to me 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.[citation needed]

Former co-worker Elizabeth Rohm 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.



  • Carnival! (1961)
  • Guys and Dolls (1965)
  • Carousel (1965)
  • Annie Get Your Gun (1966)
  • The Natural Look (1967)
  • Promises, Promises (1968)
  • 6 Rms Riv Vu (1972)
  • Chicago (1975)
  • 42nd Street (1980)

  • The Threepenny Opera (1955) (replacement for Rome Smith)
  • The Fantasticks (1960)
  • The Cradle Will Rock (1964 revival)
  • Scuba Duba


  • Cop Hater (1958)
  • Mad Dog Coll (1961)
  • Ensign Pulver (1964)
  • John Goldfarb, Please Come Home (1965)
  • The Gang That Couldn't Shoot Straight (1971)
  • A Fan's Notes (1972)
  • Fore Play (1975)
  • The Sentinel (1977)
  • Underground Aces (1981)
  • Prince of the City (1981)
  • The Special Magic of Herself the Elf (1983) (voice)
  • Brewster's Millions (1985)
  • The Imagemaker (1986)
  • F/X (1986)
  • Dirty Dancing (1987)
  • Someone to Watch Over Me (1987)
  • I Love N.Y. (1988)
  • Last Exit to Brooklyn (1989)
  • Crimes and Misdemeanors (1989)
  • Dead Women in Lingerie (1991)
  • California Casanova (1991 film) (1991)
  • Out for Justice (1991)
  • Toy Soldiers (1991)
  • Delusion (1991)
  • Delirious (1991)
  • Beauty and the Beast (1991) (voice)
  • A Gnome Named Gnorm (1992)
  • Straight Talk (1992)
  • Universal Soldier (1992)
  • Mr. Saturday Night (1992)
  • The Cemetery Club (1993)
  • Aladdin and the King of Thieves (1996) (voice)
  • Beauty and the Beast: The Enchanted Christmas (1997) (voice)
  • Belle's Magical World (1998) (voice)
  • Temps (1999)
  • The Acting Class (2000) (cameo)
  • Chinese Coffee (2000)
  • Prince of Central Park (2000)
  • Manna from Heaven (2002)
  • Broadway: The Golden Age, by the Legends Who Were There (2003) (documentary)
  • Try to Remember: The Fantasticks (2003) (documentary)
  • Mickey's PhilharMagic (2003) (short subject) (voice)
  • Kingdom Hearts II (2005) (video game) (archive recording).


  • Twenty-Four Hours in a Woman's Life (1961)
  • Annie Get Your Gun (1967)
  • Buck Rogers in the 25th Century (1980) (guest star) - Lars Mangros
  • Neil Simon's Plaza Suite (1982)
  • The Special Magic of Herself the Elf (1983)
  • An Invasion of Privacy (1983)
  • Murder, She Wrote (1985–1991) – Harry McGraw
  • Dream West (1986) (miniseries)
  • The Adventures of the Galaxy Rangers (1986) (animated)
  • Out on a Limb (1987)
  • Love Among Thieves (1987)
  • Tales from the Darkside (1987) (guest star) – Robert
  • The Law and Harry McGraw (1987–1988) – Harry McGraw
  • Simon & Simon (1988) (guest star) – Harrison / Malcolm Shanley III
  • Perry Mason: The Case of the Musical Murder (1989)
  • The Flamingo Kid (1989)
  • Kojak: None So Blind (1990)
  • The Golden Girls (1990) – Glen O'Brien
  • In Defense of a Married Man (1990)
  • Perry Mason: The Case of the Ruthless Reporter (1991)
  • Law and Order:The Wages of Love Frank Lehrmann-Guest Star-Defense Attorney (1991)
  • Neil Simon's Broadway Bound (1992)
  • Quiet Killer (1992)
  • Mastergate (1992)
  • Law & Order (cast member from 1992–2004)
  • Homicide: Life on the Street (1996, 1997, 1999) (guest star)
  • Exiled: A Law & Order Movie (1998)
  • Encounters With the Unexplained (1999)
  • The Judy Show (1999)
  • Law & Order: Special Victims Unit (1999) (guest star)
  • Law & Order: Criminal Intent (2001) (guest star)
  • Law & Order: Trial by Jury
  • The Hunt (2001)
  • Broadway: The American Musical (2004)
  • Law & Order: Trial by Jury (cast member in 2005) (filmed up to episode #1.6)


His love poems to his wife Elaine were published in Remember How I Love You: Love Letters from an Extraordinary Marriage (Touchstone, 2009).


  1. Jerry Orbach Biography (1935-)
  2. JS Online: Fame finally catches up with 'L&O's' Orbach
  3. Jerry Orbach; His `Law & Order' Role Fits Him Like a Glove - The Washington Post - HighBeam Research
  4. Jerry Orbach
  5. Brantley, Ben; Severo, Richard. "Jerry Orbach, Stage and TV Actor, Is Dead at 69", The New York Times, December 30, 2004. Accessed August 11, 2009.
  6. NY Times article 3/7/07
  7. Eye Bank advertising campaign information, retrieved 2007-01-12.
  8. Street renamed in Orbach's honor
  9. Chosick, Amy and Gamerman, Ellen."'Law & Order' School of Drama"The Wall Street Journal, May 21, 2010
  10. 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

External links

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  1. REDIRECT Template:TonyAward MusicalLeadActor 1948–1975

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