December 29, 2004 by

Jerry Orbach


Categories: Actors, Hollywood

jorbach.jpgTo lovers of Broadway musicals, Jerry Orbach was a Tony Award-winning song and dance man. Fans of his movies remember the actor as Dr. Houseman, Baby’s father in “Dirty Dancing,” or as Jack Rosenthal in the Woody Allen picture “Crimes and Misdemeanors.” To the New York Landmark Conservancy, he was a Living Landmark. But to millions of TV viewers, Orbach was beloved for playing Lennie Briscoe, the wry, homicide detective on NBC’s “Law & Order.”

Born Jerome Bernard Orbach, the Bronx native was the son of Leon Orbach, a former vaudevillian actor, and Emily Orbach, a radio singer. He majored in drama at the University of Illinois and at Northwestern University, then moved to New York City to break into show business. There he studied with Lee Strasberg and became a member of the Actors Studio.

Orbach’s first professional stage appearance was playing Mack the Knife in Kurt Weill’s version of “The Threepenny Opera.” He created the role of El Gallo in the original run of the off-off-Broadway hit “The Fantasticks” before making his Broadway debut in David Merrick’s production of “Carnival.” Orbach received his first Tony nomination in 1965 for his best actor performance in “Guys and Dolls.” Four years later, he won the award playing Chuck Baxter in the musical “Promises, Promises,” a stage adaptation of Billy Wilder’s “The Apartment.” Portraying Billy Flynn in the original Broadway production of “Chicago” earned Orbach a third Tony nod in 1976.

Over the course of his four-decade career, Orbach acted in more than 60 TV movies and feature films. He provided the voice of Lumiere, the candelabra, in Disney’s “Beauty & the Beast,” and Sa’luk, the metal-fingered thief, in “Aladdin and the King of Thieves.”

Orbach made guest appearances on dozens of TV shows, including “Kojak,” “Buck Rogers in the 25th Century,” “Trapper John, M.D.” and “Empty Nest.” He earned an Emmy nomination for best guest actor in a comedy series playing Glen O’Brien on “The Golden Girls.” From 1987 to 1988, Orbach even headlined his own show — “The Law and Harry McGraw” — a spinoff of a recurring character he played on “Murder, She Wrote.” He also hosted the reality series, “Encounters With the Unexplained,” on the PAX network.

Although Orbach originally appeared as a defense attorney in the second season of “Law & Order,” he returned a few years later to tackle the role of Briscoe, a twice-divorced alcoholic cop with a habit of bending the rules. For 12 seasons, Orbach played the perpetually scowling police officer, solved hundreds of cases, broke in numerous partners and earned an Emmy nomination for outstanding lead actor in a drama series (2000). He left the hit drama last season, but had already begun production on its latest spinoff “Law & Order: Trial by Jury.” That show is expected to debut next year.

Orbach died on Dec. 28 of prostate cancer. He was 69.

24 Responses to Jerry Orbach

  1. Anita C.

    Jerry was the complete package. He could sing, dance and how that man could act!
    He didn’t just play Lenny Briscoe-he gave Lenny heart & soul. He gave Lenny LIFE!
    Jerry acheived what so many actors strive for…& he did it with grace, style and humility.
    GOD Bless ya, Jerry!

  2. Sara S.

    Jerry Orbach was the reason I started watching L&O and quickly became the reason I got so addicted to the show. He was a terrific actor and will be greatly missed. My condolences to his family and loved ones.

  3. valerie

    I too got addicted to L&O because of Jerry. He was so authentic in everything he did (consummate actor); I get a lump in my throat every time I realize he’s left here.
    Rest with the angels Jerry.

  4. John

    Jerry was the complete actor. Watch him as he gives the illusion he is Det. Briscoe. To his family and loved ones may I say I am sorry for your loss.

  5. Kevin Raftery

    Damn! Now I’ll never get to meet him. He seemed so genuine. Especially in a world so full of phonies. Yes, Virginia, there really is a Santa Claus!

  6. Marie Brandsdorfer

    You were the best Jerry!
    Thank You for making me laugh with your wise cracks on L&O. I loved you in The Beauty and the Beast.
    May you rest in peace, you will for ever be in my heart.

  7. Luke Turner

    Jerry, you were an amazing actor, you will be missed, never forgotten, you gave humorous moments in L&O at the expense of the criminal, was always so genuine and Lenny Briscoe always kept his cool. You were awesome just being you and that

  8. Pat

    My TIVO is full of Jerry Orbach’s shows. I really loved this man. He was such a great actor.
    I’m truly saddened by his passing and continue to miss the fact that he won’t be on any new shows.
    Rest with the Angels Jerry, and Peace to your family.
    Law and Order will never be the same without you.
    New Mexico

  9. Christina

    Unfortunatly I heard about Jerry’s death too late, but just sitting here looking at all the things people have said about loving him as an actor and especially as Lenny brings so many tears to my eyes. I am glad to see I was not the only one who held such a high regard for this man. He truly was a God among Actors and I am sure he was one among Man. The tears will never stop falling, I love you and Miss you Lenny. I am sure your family is missing you most of all,and I send out my love to them and my prayers are with you. Sleep tight sweet Prince, Lenny 4 Ever.

  10. Andy

    Now and again, someone comes along that is a real inspiration to us in humanity and dignity, Jerry Orbach was one of the few, A wonderful human being, superb actor, song and dance man, And most importantly, Loved by all, no one had a bad word to say about the man, And how many can go through life with such a credit to there name. And he was law and order, period, He will be so sadly missed.
    God bless his family whom am sure were so proud of such a sweet man

  11. W. O. Cole

    My wife and I have watched Mr. Orbach in the role of Lenny Brisco for many years. He did such a wonderful job in the role. We are so sorry and sad that this wonderful actor has left us, but we know that he will reside in the hearts of the many people that admired him and his work. We offer our condolences to his family. We will alway remember “Lenny”.

  12. m.r.

    I remember first seeing Jerry Orbach in the movie, “Out For Justice” alongside the movie’s title star, Steven Seagal. Jerry played a homicide detective in that movie much as he did for so long on the small screen in “Law and Order”. I remember thinking how Jerry Ohrbach really characterized the quintissential grizzled New York City street detective so magnificently. Then, on “Law and Order”, he did the same again. It was a tremendous joy to watch him do this, extremely entertaining. I would watch episode after episode of L&O (because I’ve always been a huge fan of the show ever since it first came on the air), always laughing at his wry wit and one-liners. He brought such a tremendous depth to the character of Detective Lennie Briscoe, you truly believed for that one hour that Jerry Orbach was, not Jerry Orbach, but, in fact, Detective Lennie Briscoe, with all of the strengths and weaknesses that character dealt with. It takes a truly skilled, gifted and talented actor to be able to throw himself into a part so deeply that you see the character being portrayed more than the actor portraying that character. Jerry Orbach had that skill and talent in abundance, and there is no Law and Order without him-the show just is’nt the same anymore. Its magic is gone. No one could ever do on that show what he did and no one could ever replace him. He was an unbelievably fantastic actor, and, from what little I know of the man personally, I would imagine he must have been a special gift in the lives of all who knew him.
    I am absolutely heartbroken at the news of Mr. Orbach’s death and, as I’m sure many others will, I will miss him tremendously and I still get a tear in my eye whenever I think of him no longer being here on earth with the rest of us. I hope I will see him in heaven when I go there, because I feel he truly deserves a place there.

  13. Cedric Bradley

    Jerry Orbach Was A Great Acter.I loved his wisecracks,they made me laugh and smile.I remmeber the frist time I saw Him was on Law & Order.He shall be Forever Missed In My Heart.
    Long May He Live In Our Hearts!


    i just love him,, seen every law and order show he’s been on,,, my ring tone on my cell phone is law and order,, i think of jerry ever time my phone rings,,, GOD BLESS HIS FAMILY, L&O IT NOT THE SAME WITH OUT HIM,,

  15. Cindy

    I fell in love with Jerry as Dr. Hausmann in Dirty Dancing and was overjoyed when he arrived on Law & Order. I never missed one of his episodes – I still watch them repeatedly.
    I still miss him, my belated condolences to his loved ones.

  16. Bob

    I loved his acting in Law & Order. I am still watching him in the reruns. Hard to believe he has left us. You will be sorely missed by all.

  17. John

    I first saw Jerry Ohrbach in 1961 or 1962 in the first off-broadway production of The Fantastics. Obviously not a glamor boy, he possessed an obvious charisma that made the show and the entire musical score something never to be forgotten. It always amazed me that he could play with great skill serious dramatic roles as well as song and dance parts in musical comedy. There has not been as versatile and well-rounded and actor-performer in my lifetime.

  18. Diana

    I was lucky enough to have seen Jerry Ohrback in “Guys and Dolls”. I was just 17 and my Nana took me to see the show in New York City. He looked a lot like my Dad and they both died at 69. It’s a comfort to still be able to watch him. His work here may have been done but his brilliance shines on.

  19. Scarlett O'casey, Ph.D II

    I had the pleasure of watching a re-run of Golden Girls just now. Jerry Orbach played the role of a suitor of one of the show’s main characters. It was like seeing an old friend again. I miss him.
    Every now and then I would like to speak to him with the words of my heart.

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