jerry orbach, the tony award-winning broadway musical star who achieved his greatest fame on television playing the sardonic new york city police detective lennie briscoe for 12 years on the acclaimed series from nbc’s “law & order”, has died. he was 69 years old.
The Bronx-born Orbach, whose film and television work earned him a reputation as the quintessential New Yorker, died of prostate cancer Tuesday night at a Manhattan hospital, his agent, Robert Malcolm, said.
although the new york daily news first reported on december 1. 2 Orbach had been undergoing treatment for prostate cancer since last spring, Malcolm told the Times on Wednesday that the actor had been battling the disease for more than 10 years.
“He’s obviously been working through the good times and the bad,” Malcolm said. “He was a tremendous fighter.”
Malcolm said Orbach, who began a new round of chemotherapy last spring, told the cast and crew of “law & order” that he had prostate cancer in April before leaving the show to play Briscoe in an upcoming spin-off series, “law & amp; order: trial by jury.”
The show, which features a cast that includes bebe neuwirth, is scheduled to debut next year. orbach will appear in some of the first episodes.
“I am deeply saddened by the passing of not only a friend and colleague, but also a legendary 20th century show business figure who was a star of screen, stage and television,” dick wolf, creator and Executive Producer of “Law & order,” he said. “He was one of the most honored artists of his generation. the loss of him is irreplaceable.”
Orbach began his rise in New York theater in 1960 playing the cock in the original cast of the long-running off-Broadway hit “The Fantasticks,” in which he introduced the “try to remember” standard.
She then co-starred in a series of hit Broadway musicals: “Carnival!”, “Promises, Promises” (which won her a Tony Award in 1969), “Chicago,” “42nd Street,” and a major revival of “Annie, grab your gun”, starring ethel merman.
“jerry’s strong spirit will be with me forever,” said chita rivera, who starred with orbach in the 1975 broadway production of “chicago,” said. “He was a presenter who brought style, confidence and dazzle to our original ‘chicago’ company.”
Among Orbach’s film credits were “The Gang That Couldn’t Shoot Right,” “Prince Of The City,” “Postcards From The Edge,” “Crimes And Misdemeanors,” and “Dirty Dancing.” He also sang in Disney’s Oscar-winning animated film “Beauty and the Beast” as the voice of the lovely French candle Lumiere (with drooping eyes from Orbach).
For his television work, he earned three Emmy nominations: in 2000 for “law & order”, in 1992 for an abc production of neil simon’s “broadwaybound” and in 1990 for an episode of “the golden girls”.
orbach was inducted into the broadway hall of fame in 1999. as a tribute to the actor, the lights on broadway were dimmed at 8 p.m. Wednesday.
only child, orbach was born oct. January 20, 1935. His father, a restaurant manager, was a former vaudeville actor and his mother, a radio singer. The family moved frequently while he was growing up, settling in Waukegan, Illinois when Orbach was 12 years old. by then, he was displaying a flair for show business.
“I always got cast in the class play and this and that since I was about 9 years old,” she told the New York Daily News in 1997. “And I always sang, sang with my mom, sang in the chorus . I won the state singing contest in the baritone division without really any training; I didn’t know what I was doing.”
After graduating high school at age 16, he landed a summer stock trainee job at the Chevy Chase Theater in Wheeling, Illinois. Unable to pay his junior year tuition at Northwestern University’s prestigious drama school, he dropped out and moved to New York City in the fall of 1955.
That December, he got his first break in a major off-Broadway revival of “The Threepenny Opera.”
orbach, who studied acting under lee strasberg at the actor’s studio, said it took him years to convince producers that he was more than a musical comedy actor. Even his fellow actors, he said in a 1993 Los Angeles Times interview, thought he was just a song-and-dance man. “When he got a straight play like ‘six rms riv vu’ or ‘scuba, duba,’ they were shocked.”
Orbach starred in the 1987-88 series “the law and harry mcgraw”, a spin-off of a character she played in the angela lansbury series “murder, she write”.
in 1992, the producers of “law & order” asked orbach to replace paul sorvino, who was leaving the show.
Orbach relished the role of the rule-breaking, old-school detective, a twice-married recovering alcoholic. he played the role with a distinct New York flair.
Standing over a corpse with a receipt for a fancy restaurant found on it, Briscoe of Orbach murmured, “Dinner for two? I hope you enjoyed it.”
and a homeless man who claimed to have spoken to st. Francisco de Asís, he said, “I was there, friend.”
On the streets of New York City, where “law & order ”, the sight of orbach would stop the traffic, the drivers would shout his name or congratulate him on the program.
Among Orbach’s biggest admirers were members of the New York City Police Department.
“The police treat me very well,” Orbach told the Philadelphia Inquirer last December.
“if it’s raining and I can’t get a cab, sometimes a patrol car drives by and they say, ‘where are you going?’ I say, ‘I don’t want any trouble,’ they say, ‘get in the back. we’ll pretend you’re under arrest.’”
Orbach is survived by his wife, Elaine, whom he met in 1976 when they were in the cast of “Chicago”; two sons from a previous marriage, Tony and Chris; Two grandchildren and his mother, Emily.
a memorial service is pending.