“Law & Order” thesp and musical legit star Jerry Orbach died of prostate cancer Tuesday in Manhattan after weeks of treatment. He was 69.
Broadway dimmed its lights on Wednesday night to commemorate Orbach’s work.
When his illness was initially diagnosed and announced by manager Robert Malcolm in December, Orbach had already begun production on NBC’s upcoming “Law & Order” spinoff, “Trial by Jury.” He reprised the role of Detective Lennie Briscoe, whom he had portrayed on “Law & Order” for 12 seasons before leaving the show in May.
Orbach, who planned to return to filming for “Trial by Jury” early next year, is expected to appear in the first few episodes of the show.
A new member will join the company, according to a “Trial by Jury” spokesman. “While Jerry is irreplaceable, the show is an ensemble and will continue in production,” he said. Skein is expected to bow by March.
In a statement released Wednesday, NBC Universal chairman Bob Wright called Orbach an “unforgettable presence of stage and screen. He was a man of extraordinary talents and personal grace.”
“I’m immensely saddened by the passing of not only a friend and colleague, but a legendary figure of 20th-century show business who was a star of screen, stage and television,” show producer Dick Wolf said in a statement.
The Bronx-born actor traced his showbiz roots to musicals, which caused him to be overlooked when he first tried to break into film and television.
While on Broadway, Orbach starred in hit musicals including “Carnival,” “Promises, Promises,” for which he won a Tony, “Chicago” and “42nd Street.”
In “Chicago,” Orbach originated the role money-loving lawyer Billy Flynn, the role Richard Gere played in the 2002 film.
Prior to his time on Broadway, he was the narrator El Gallo in the original cast of the Off Broadway hit “The Fantasticks,” a show that ran for more than 40 years. In that show, Orbach introduced the song “Try to Remember.”
Orbach also appeared in such films as “Underground Aces,” “Prince of the City” and “Dirty Dancing,” and contributed the voice of Lumiere the singing candelabra in Disney’s “Beauty and the Beast.”
Other notable TV appearances include his starring role in “The Law and Harry McGraw” in 1987-88, a spinoff featuring a character he created alongside Angela Lansbury in “Murder, She Wrote,” and a 1990 guest role on “The Golden Girls” that earned him an Emmy nomination for guest actor in a comedy series.
Declared a living landmark by the New York Landmark Conservancy, Orbach came from a showbiz family in the Bronx. His father was a vaudeville actor and his mother was a radio singer. During his childhood, his family moved a number of times, eventually settling in Illinois, where he attended high school. He went on to study drama at the U. of Illinois and at Northwestern U. He continued studying acting in Gotham, where he first started his career in musicals.
It was as Briscoe, though, that American audiences came to know him. He was nominated in 2000 for an Emmy for the character, a world-weary, recovering alcoholic who sized up life with sarcastic asides. For instance, standing over a fresh body on which a receipt from a fancy restaurant was found, he muttered: “Dinner for two? Hope he enjoyed it.”
Sam Waterston, Orbach’s co-star on “Law & Order,” said “Jerry loved his life and his work, and we loved him back. He was a wonderful actor and an extraordinarily good man. He made us laugh every day.”
He is survived by his second wife Elaine and two sons from his first marriage.
In lieu of flowers, the family has requested that donations be sent to Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, P.O Box 27106 New York, N.Y. 10087. Please note “prostate cancer” in the memo portion of the check.
(The Associated Press contributed to this report.)