- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 29, 2004

NEW YORK (AP) — Actor Jerry Orbach, who played a sardonic, seen-it-all cop on TV’s “Law & Order” and scored on Broadway as a song-and-dance man, has died of prostate cancer at 69.

Mr. Orbach died Tuesday night in Manhattan after several weeks of treatment, Audrey Davis of the public relations agency Lippin Group said yesterday.

When his illness was diagnosed, he had begun production on NBC’s upcoming spinoff “Law & Order: Trial By Jury,” after 12 seasons playing Detective Lennie Briscoe in the original series.

On Broadway, Mr. Orbach starred in hit musicals, including “Carnival,” “Chicago,” “42nd Street” and “Promises, Promises,” for which he won a Tony Award.

Earlier, he was in the original cast of the off-off-Broadway hit “The Fantasticks,” playing the narrator. The show went on to run for more than 40 years.

Lights on Broadway marquees were expected to be dimmed for one minute at curtain time last night in Mr. Orbach’s memory.

Among his film appearances were roles in “Dirty Dancing,” “Prince of the City” and “Crimes and Misdemeanors.” In Disney’s “Beauty and the Beast,” he voiced the role of Lumiere the candlestick and sang “Be Our Guest.”

Mr. Orbach still is expected to feature in early episodes of “Law & Order: Trial by Jury,” when the show premieres later this season, Miss Davis said.

“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 Wolf, creator and executive producer of the “Law & Order” series. “He was one of the most honored performers of his generation. His loss is irreplaceable.”

With his hangdog face and loose-limbed gait, Mr. Orbach was adept at playing the street-smart tough guy, but also could dance and carry a tune. The lifelong New Yorker personified the city’s well-worn but implacable edge, embodying the Big Apple like few other actors.

Former New York Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani called Mr. Orbach “a devoted ambassador of the city.”

Mr. Orbach was the son of a vaudeville-performer father and a radio-singer mother. He acted in school plays, then attended Northwestern University’s prestigious drama school, although he couldn’t swing the money to finish. In 1955, he returned to New York to hit the stage.

He then began an association with producer David Merrick, appearing in three of his biggest musical successes, starting in 1961 with “Carnival.”

Mr. Orbach won a Tony for his performance in “Promises, Promises,” but his biggest hit for Mr. Merrick was “42nd Street,” which opened on Broadway in 1980 and ran for more than 3,400 performances.

“It was a gift to work with him,” recalled actress Brenda Smiley, who co-starred with Mr. Orbach in the off-Broadway hit “Scuba Duba.”

In 1987, Mr. Orbach starred in the series “The Law and Harry McGraw,” a spinoff featuring a character he had played on “Murder, She Wrote.” It flopped, but five years later he struck gold with his role on “Law and Order.”

In a 2000 interview, Mr. Orbach said 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.”

Mr. Orbach is survived by his second wife, Elaine, whom he met doing “Chicago” and married in 1979, and sons Chris and Tony from his first marriage.

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