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Jerome Bernard "Jerry" Orbach (October 20, 1935 – December 28, 2004) was an American actor, 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 El Gallo in The Fantasticks, Julian Marsh in 42nd Street, and Billy Flynn in the original production of Chicago.


Early life

Orbach was born in the Bronxmarker, 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 from Hamburgmarker, Germany (of Sephardic Jewish ancestry) and his mother was a Pennsylvaniamarker-born Polish American 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 Yorkmarker; Wilkes-Barremarker, Nanticokemarker, and Scrantonmarker, Pennsylvaniamarker; Springfield, Massachusettsmarker; and Waukegan, Illinoismarker. He studied drama at University of Illinoismarker and Northwestern Universitymarker and then went to New York, where he studied with Lee Strasberg at the Actors Studiomarker.


Orbach was an accomplished Broadwaymarker 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 - 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 who hires an assassin 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. Also in 1991, he played a police captain in Steven Seagal's Out for Justice. That same year, Orbach appeared as a defense attorney in the Law & Order episode "The Wages of Love" and, a year later, he joined the main cast of Law & Order as world weary, wisecracking police detective (and recovering alcoholic) Lennie Briscoe. He remained with the show for 12 years (1992–2004) and became one of its most popular characters. TV Guide named Briscoe as one of their top 50 television detectives of all-time. He also voice acted the character for the video game spin-offs of the series. 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," 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. In 1979, he married Broadway dancer Elaine Cancilla, whom he met while starring in Chicago.

Orbach lived in a high-rise on 53rd Streetmarker off Eighth Avenuemarker in Hell's Kitchenmarker and was a fixture in that Manhattan 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 had been met with some resistance by local planning boards, but these were overcome due to his popularity and love of the Big Apple.

In early December 2004, it was announced that Orbach had been receiving treatment for prostate cancer since spring 2004; he died at the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Centermarker 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.

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. His interment was at Trinity Church Cemetery.

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."


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 in New York City. The naming occurred as a tribute to him during a revival of The Fantasticks at the theatre.








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. 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
  9. Street renamed in Orbach's honor

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