Be seein’ ya “Lennie”
Jerry Orbach dead at 69
(CNN) — Actor Jerry Orbach, best known for his long-running role as New York police detective Lennie Briscoe on “Law & Order,” has died. He was 69.
Orbach died of prostate cancer Tuesday night, a spokesman for the program confirmed Wednesday.
The actor had been undergoing treatment for his illness for several weeks, Audrey Davis of the public relations agency Lippin Group told The Associated Press.
He had recently been in production for a “Law & Order” spinoff featuring Briscoe, “Law & Order: Trial by Jury,” scheduled to premiere in early 2005.
“I’m immensely saddened by the passing of not only a friend and colleague, but a legendary figure of 20th-century show business,” said Dick Wo
lf, creator and executive producer of the “Law & Order” series, in a statement. “He was one of the most honored performers of his generation. His loss is irreplaceable.”
Orbach joined “Law & Order” in the show’s third season and quickly made Briscoe a popular character, known for his deadpan wisecracks and rough vulnerability.
Audiences also learned of the character’s divorces, his difficult relationship with his daughters (one was later killed for testifying against a drug-dealing boyfriend) and his battle with alcoholism — though, in true “Law & Order” fashion, these tidbits were revealed casually over the course of many years.
Orbach was also one of many “L&O” actors who had appeared as a different character at another time in the show’s run — in Orbach’s case, as a defense attorney during the show’s second season.
“Law & Order” and its spinoffs are all filmed in New York, and Orbach was so identified with the city that he was declared a “living landmark” by the New York Landmark Conservancy in 2002.
Orbach had been a notable New York actor for more than three decades when he joined “Law & Order.” He was a star of the city’s theatrical world, having originated the roles of El Gallo in the off-Broadway “Fantasticks,” Billy Flynn in the original mid-’70s Broadway run of “Chicago” and Julian Marsh in the revival of “42nd Street.”
He won a Tony for his performance in 1968’s “Promises, Promises,” a Neil Simon/Burt Bacharach/Hal David musical version of the 1960 movie “The Apartment.”
As a movie actor, Orbach shined in supporting roles, including performances in 1981’s “Prince of the City,” 1986’s “F/X,” Woody Allen’s 1989 film “Crimes and Misdemeanors” and 1992’s “Mr. Saturday Night.” He was the voice of Lumiere in “Beauty and the Beast” (1991) and the father of Jennifer Grey’s character Baby in “Dirty Dancing” (1987).
Jerome Bernard Orbach was born in Bronx, New York, on October 20, 1935, the son of a vaudeville actor and a radio singer. The family moved around during his childhood, finally settling near Chicago.
He attended the University of Illinois and Northwestern University and then returned to New York to begin his acting career.
He earned his broadest fame relatively late in life, but couldn’t have asked for more, he said.
“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,” he once said, according to the Internet Movie Database. “The 12 seasons of ‘Law & Order’ really made that possible.”
New Yorkers, particularly cops, loved him.
lice? Oh, my God. It’s a straight-up love affair with the man,” co-star Jesse L. Martin told the Philadelphia Inquirer.
Orbach told the AP he didn’t know “where I stop and Lennie starts, really. … I know he’s tougher than me and he carries a gun. And I’m not an alcoholic.”
“I know I wouldn’t want to be him,” Orbach summed up. “I guess that’s where I stop and he starts.”
Orbach was married twice. He is survived by his wife, Elaine, and his children, Tony and Chris.