Jerome Bernard "Jerry" Orbach (October 20, 1935 – December 28, 2004) was an American actor and singer. He was 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. Orbach was also a noted musical theatre star. His prominent roles included originating the character of El Gallo in The Fantasticks, the longest-running musical play in history, 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.
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 Polish American and Catholic, and Orbach was raised Catholic (a religious background later replicated in his character on Law and 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. 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. 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 Jennifer Grey's father in Dirty Dancing and 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. He also 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 and some of its video game spin-offs. That same year, he played a 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. People loved the relish he took in his sarcastic comments as he arrested some pompous bigwig. He remained on the show until 2004 and became one of its most popular characters. TV Guide named 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.
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. 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. 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 Emily Orbach and two grandchildren, Peter and Sarah Kate Orbach, his older son Tony's children. The season 14 episode "C.O.D.", the last Law & Order episode featuring Orbach, 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. Orbach's likeness has been used in an ad campaign for Eye Bank for Sight Restoration in Manhattan. The internment of his remains was at Trinity Church Cemetery.
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.
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.
Jerome Bernard Orbach
20 October 1935, New York City, New York
28 December 2004, Manhattan, New York City, New York
I used to say when I was working in the theater that if I ever had five seasons of a hit TV show I'd never have to worry about money and wouldn't have to do anything I didn't want to do . . . The 12 seasons on "Law & Order" (1990) really made that possible.
According to his book "Hollywood Animal", Joe Eszterhas said that when he was down and out, Jerry Orbach would fill his station wagon with groceries and deliver them to his house.
On Monday, 20th March 2000 he sued on-line auctioneer eBay Inc. in Manhattan (New York) federal court for displaying his Social Security number on the Internet. The suit alleges that eBay began broadcasting the confidential information on its Web site on Wednesday 15th March 2000 when it advertised the sale of two of Orbach's contracts from 1958.
Spent part of his childhood in Nanticoke, PA.
Created the roles of El Gallo in "The Fantasticks," Billy Flynn in "Chicago" and Julian Marsh in "42nd Street" on the New York stage.
Father of Chris Orbach and Anthony Orbach.
Was partying at the Copacabana with famed New York mobster Joey Gallo hours before Gallo was shot dead at Umberto's Clam House in New York City
Had read for the roles of Max Greevey and Phil Cerreta on "Law & Order" (1990) before finally being cast as Det. Lennie Briscoe.
In 1976, he was nominated for the Tony Award for "Best Actor in a Musical" for his performance in "Chicago."
Announced on March 26, 2004, that he would be leaving "Law & Order" (1990) after 12 years on the series.
In 1969, he won the Tony Award for Best Actor (Musical) for his 1968 role of Chuck Baxter in the Burt Bacharach/Hal David musical "Promises, Promises", a stage adaptation of Billy Wilder's The Apartment (1960). This was preceded by a 1965 Tony nomination as Best Supporting or Featured Actor (Musical) for a revival of "Guys and Dolls," and followed by a 1976 Best Actor (Musical) nomination for the original production of "Chicago."
The New York Landmark Conservancy declared him a Living Landmark.
His manager, Robert Malcolm, announced in December 2004 that he has prostate cancer. However, Malcolm said, "We expect he'll be fine. He's been playing golf, shooting his episodes (of "Law & Order: Trial by Jury" (2005)) and doing real well".
He played the same character (Detective Lennie Briscoe) in five different television series: "Law & Order" (1990), "Homicide: Life on the Street" (1993), "Law & Order: Special Victims Unit" (1999), "Law & Order: Criminal Intent" (2001) and "Law & Order: Trial by Jury" (2005).
Had been battling prostate cancer for 10 years.
Father was German-Jewish whose ancestry was Spanish Sephardic and Mother was Polish Catholic.
Received the Edith Oliver Award for Sustained Excellence at the 1999 Lucille Lortel Awards.
Appeared in episodes of three different series with Jesse L. Martin: "Law & Order" (1990), "Law & Order: Special Victims Unit" (1999) and "Law & Order: Criminal Intent" (2001).
Appeared in episodes of three different series with Richard Belzer: "Law & Order" (1990), "Homicide: Life on the Street" (1993) and "Law & Order: Special Victims Unit" (1999).
On "Law & Order: Trial by Jury" (2005), when he was so ill that he couldn't speak above a whisper, they rewrote the scene so that he and the other characters around him all had reason to whisper (outside of a courtroom door).
Along with Jesse L. Martin, Fred Dalton Thompson and Leslie Hendrix, he is one of only four actors to play the same character (Detective Lennie Briscoe) on all four "Law & Order" series ("Law & Order" (1990), "Law & Order: Special Victims Unit" (1999), "Law & Order: Criminal Intent" (2001) and "Law & Order: Trial by Jury" (2005)).
Appeared in episodes of four different series with Sam Waterston: "Law & Order" (1990), "Homicide: Life on the Street" (1993), "Law & Order: Special Victims Unit" (1999) and "Law & Order: Trial by Jury" (2005).
Jesse L. Martin performed the song "Razzle Dazzle" from the musical "Chicago" at the 2005 Tony Awards just as the "In Memoriam" section of the show was finishing. The last photo shown during the memorial was that of Orbach, who was both Martin's costar on "Law & Order" (1990) and the first person to perform "Razzle Dazzle" in the original Broadway production of "Chicago".
Played the uncle of his real-life son, Chris Orbach, in "Law & Order: Special Victims Unit" (1999).
His character "Law & Order" (1990) and "Law & Order: Trial by Jury" (2005) character, Detective Lennie Briscoe, was the longest running character on American prime time live action television from May 2004, when "Frasier" (1993) ended, to March 2005. Kelsey Grammer had played Dr. Frasier Crane in "Cheers" (1982) and "Frasier" (1993) since November 1984. Richard Belzer, who has played Detective John Munch in "Homicide: Life on the Street" (1993) and "Law & Order: Special Victims Unit" (1999) since January 1993, is the current holder of the title.
Before joining the cast of "Law & Order" (1990) in 1992, he played a defense attorney named Frank Lehrman in the Season Two episode "The Wages of Love". Detective Lennie Briscoe, the character he later played on the series for twelve seasons, hated defense attorneys for defending "the scum of the earth."
The "Law & Order: Trial by Jury" (2005) episode "Baby Boom" was dedicated to his memory. At the end, a message was shown that said "For Jerry".
Is one of four cast members from "Law & Order" (1990) whose character became a regular on a "Law & Order" spin-off. He played Det. Lennie Briscoe in both "Law & Order" and "Law & Order: Trial by Jury" (2005). Although he was signed as a regular cast member in L&O:TBJ, he died unexpectedly after shooting only two episodes.
Along with Chris Noth, Dann Florek and Fred Dalton Thompson, he is one of four "Law & Order" (1990) cast members who later joined the regular cast of one of the spin-off series. He played Detective Lennie Briscoe in "Law & Order" (1990) from 1992 to 2004 and was a member of the original cast of "Law & Order: Trial by Jury" (2005).
Although he and Steven Hill appeared in 177 episodes of "Law & Order" (1990) and the "Law & Order: Special Victims Unit" (1999) episode "Entitled" together, the only time that they ever appeared on screen together was during one brief scene in the "Law & Order" (1990) Season Seven episode "Corruption".
Along with S. Epatha Merkerson, Annie Parisse,Milena Govich, and Jeremy Sisto one of only 5 "Law & Order" (1990) cast members to play a different character in an episode before joining the cast in a later season. (Michael Imperioli and J.K. Simmons also played multiple roles, but were not permanent additions to the cast.).
Was an organ donor and upon his death he gave his eyes as a gift of sight.
Made his Broadway stage debut as Smith, the Police Constable, in "The Threepenny Opera".
W 53rd St. in Manhattan has been named Jerry Orbach Way!.
[on working on "Law & Order" (1990)] It's a lot more fun for actors to cry and rant and rave, or have a drug problem or a drinking problem. Once in a while I get jealous of people who get to do real histrionics. But that's all right. That stuff's only about awards. It's not about people watching. People are very loyal to our show and they want to see the case resolved in an hour.
It may sound a little off the wall to say this, but having the opportunity to do this in this long an arc has given me - and is continuing to give me - a feeling that I'm doing something for the city and for the people of it and for the cops. I see it every day on the street. The profile of "Law & Order" (1990) has gotten bigger and bigger. And the way the city feels about us . . . it's like we're part of the good things that happen in the city.