Orbach starred on the original Law & Order series for twelve years between 1992 and 2004 (Season 3 - Season 14), which made him one of the longest-serving regular cast members in the show's 20-year-run history. Before joining the main cast of the series, he had a guest role as a Defense Attorney named Frank Lehrman in the Season 2 episode "The Wages of Love".
Orbach also appeared as Lennie Briscoe in Exiled: A Law & Order Movie, the Special Victims Unit episodes "...Or Just Look Like One", "Hysteria", and "Entitled: Part 1", and the Criminal Intent episode "Poison".
Aside from the Law & Order franchise, Orbach guest-starred as Lennie Briscoe on the Homicide: Life on the Street crossover episodes "For God and Country", "Baby, It's You: Part 2", and "Sideshow: Part 2".
For his role on Law & Order, Orbach was nominated for a 2000 Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama Series (for his performance in the Season 10 episode "Marathon") and was posthumously awarded a 2005 Screen Actors Guild Award for Outstanding Performance by a Male Actor in a Drama Series. He was also declared a "Living Landmark" by the New York Landmarks Conservancy in 2002, along with fellow cast member Sam Waterston.
Orbach was also known for his various Broadway musical performances (including The Fantasticks, Chicago and 42nd Street), supporting film roles (including Prince of the City, Dirty Dancing and Crimes and Misdemeanors), and recurring guest role on the crime drama Murder, She Wrote. He also provided the voice of the singing candelabrum Lumière in the Disney animated movie Beauty and the Beast, and reprised that role several times during his tenure on Law & Order.
Orbach was signed to continue playing Lennie Briscoe on Law & Order: Trial by Jury, but was featured in only the first 2 episodes of the series. Both episodes aired in March 2005, after his death. The Trial by Jury episode "Baby Boom", the Criminal Intent episode "View From Up Here", and the original series episode "Mammon" were all dedicated to his memory.
Orbach died from prostate cancer on 28 December 2004, at the age of 69. He was reportedly diagnosed with this cancer more than a decade before, but his illness was not publicly revealed until just a few weeks before he passed away. The day after his death, the marquees on Broadway were dimmed in mourning; one of the highest honors of the American theater world. That same day, NBC re-aired the Law & Order episode "C.O.D." (the last episode of the original series to feature Orbach), also in honor of him. Jerry was survived by his wife Elaine, two sons from his first marriage, two grandchildren, and his mother (who lived to be 101).
- Jerry Orbach was the third longest-lasting main cast member of the original Law & Order, behind S. Epatha Merkerson and Sam Waterston. Along with Steven Hill, these three were also the only regular cast members to remain on the show for over ten seasons.
- Despite being the third cast member to play the role of Senior Detective on the original Law & Order, Orbach remained on the show far longer than both of his predecessors (George Dzundza and Paul Sorvino); as well as his replacement (Dennis Farina).
- Orbach's portrayal of Lennie Briscoe was based on his similar role as NYPD detective Gus Levy in the 1981 film Prince of the City, which Dick Wolf had personally suggested after casting him on the show.
- Orbach was one of only five cast members who have appeared in the first four series of the Law & Order franchise. The other four are Jesse L. Martin, Leslie Hendrix, Fred Dalton Thompson, and Carolyn McCormick.
- Along with Chris Noth, Dann Florek, Alana De La Garza, and Fred Thompson, Orbach is one of five Law & Order cast members who later joined the regular cast of one of the spin-off series.
- Jerry's son Chris Orbach had a recurring role as Detective Ken Briscoe (Lennie Briscoe's nephew) during the first season of Special Victims Unit, and his cousin Ron made guest appearances on Law & Order, Criminal Intent, and Trial by Jury. His older son Tony was featured in the Law & Order episode "Doubles" as a reporter.
|Law & Order|
Final Cast: Jeremy Sisto • Anthony Anderson • S. Epatha Merkerson
Final Cast: Sam Waterston • Alana De La Garza • Linus Roache