Jerome Bernard "Jerry" Orbach (October 20, 1935 – December 28, 2004) was an American actor and singer, described at the time of his death as "one of the last bona fide leading men of the Broadway musical and global celebrity on television" and a "versatile stage and film actor".
Orbach's professional career began on the New York stage, both on and off-Broadway, where he created roles such as El Gallo in the original off-Broadway run of The Fantasticks (1960) and became the first performer to sing that show's standard "Try To Remember"; Billy Flynn in the original Chicago (1975–1977), and Julian Marsh in the original 42nd Street (1980–1985). Nominated for multiple Tony Awards, Orbach won for his performance as Chuck Baxter in Promises, Promises (1968–1972).
Later in his career, Orbach played supporting roles in films such as Prince of the City (1981), Dirty Dancing (1987), Crimes and Misdemeanors (1989) and Disney's Beauty and the Beast (1991). He also made frequent guest appearances on television; including a recurring role on Murder, She Wrote (1985–1991) as private detective Harry McGraw. However, he gained worldwide fame for his starring role as NYPD Detective Lennie Briscoe on the long-running NBC crime drama Law & Order (1992–2004).
In January 1994 (less than two years into his stint on Law & Order), Orbach was diagnosed with prostate cancer. He initially received radiation therapy as treatment, but by December 1994, the cancer had returned and metastasized; at that point, he went on hormone therapy, on which he remained over the next decade until the treatment ran out in March 2004. Following his departure from Law & Order that year, Orbach went through chemotherapy, but he ultimately succumbed to his cancer on December 28, 2004, at the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York (at age 69). Despite being diagnosed with the cancer more than a decade before his death, Orbach's illness was not revealed to the general public until just weeks before he died. Prior to his death, Orbach was signed to continue in the role of Lennie Briscoe on the new spin-off Law & Order: Trial by Jury (which was to accommodate his illness by giving him a lighter workload than he had on the original series), but he was only featured in the first two episodes of the series (both of which aired in March 2005, after his death).
The day after Orbach's death, the marquees on Broadway were dimmed in mourning, one of the highest honors of the American theatre world, while NBC re-aired the Law & Order episode "C.O.D." (the last episode of the original series to feature Orbach) in honor of him. The Criminal Intent episode "View from Up Here" and the Trial by Jury episode "Baby Boom" were dedicated to Orbach, and the Law & Order episode "Mammon" featured a pictorial memorial of him.
In addition to his sons, wife, and former wife, Orbach was survived by his mother and two grandchildren, Peter and Sarah Kate Orbach, children of his older son Tony. His mother died on July 28, 2012, at the age of 101. His wife Elaine died in 2009 (at age 69), and his former wife Marta died in 2012 (at age 79). Having had perfect 20/20 vision his whole life, Jerry Orbach requested that his eyes be donated after his death. His wish was granted when two individuals – one who needed correction for a nearsighted eye and another who needed correction for a farsighted eye – received Orbach's corneas. His likeness has been used in an ad campaign for Eye Bank for Sight Restoration in Manhattan. The interment of his remains was at Trinity Church Cemetery.