Friday, December 31, 2004
New York City — Actor Jerry Orbach died in his home in Manhattan at age 69. Orbach was a staple of American cinema, stage and television, with his most recent role being in the NBC police drama “Law and Order.”
Orbach is survived by his wife of 25 years, Elaine Cancilla, and his two sons Anthony and Christopher.
Orbach was born in the tough Bronx borough of New York City in 1935 to a family of entertainers. His father Leon Orbach was an vaudeville actor and his mother Emily Orbach was a radio singer and greeting card writer.
The family moved often to keep up with travelling Vaudeville acts, but eventually settled in Waukegan Illinois where Orbach played football at the local high school. After graduation, Orbach got a summer job at the Chevy Chase Country Club in Wheeling doing odd jobs ranging from stagecraft to small acting parts in plays.
He then studied drama at the University of Illinois before transferring to Northwestern where he studied the Stanislavsky Method of drama acting. In 1955, Orbach dropped out of college and moved to New York City where he got a job as an understudy in The Threepenny Opera.
Orbach continued to work in theater, eventually earning roles in broadway musicals, but by 1961 had grown dissatisfied with being typecast as a musical actor. He tried briefly to break into film without success, and eventually returned to broadway where he earned numerous accolades for his roles in such musicals as “Guys and Dolls” and “Chicago“.
He earned the lead role as the title character in his own short-lived series “The Law and Harry McGraw”, a spinoff of “Murder She Wrote”. Orbach also scored key roles in a few Hollywood films, including the action thriller “F/X”, and the dance-musical hit “Dirty Dancing”, but continued to find his mainstay in television crime dramas.
In 1990, he picked up a role in the new NBC crime drama “Law and Order” as the acerbic-witted Lennie Briscoe, a role which soon become a regular job. Orbach continued in this role in addition to movie roles and occasional musical appearances until his death this last week.
Orbach was diagnosed with Prostate cancer in Spring of 2004, a fact he kept private until November when he checked into New York’s Memorial Sloan-Ketting Cancer Center for treatment. In spite of the aggressive nature of the treatment, he died on the evening of December 28.