Wednesday, 29 December 2004

The Great Jerry Orbach

One of my favourite actors had pased on. Tuesday night Jerry Orbach died of prostate cancer at age 69. He is best known as Detective Lennie Briscoe on Law and Order, but he was also a song and dance man who dominated Broadway for decades. In fact, Orbach's first appearance on television was tied to his career on the stage. He appeared on The Ed Sullivan Show singing "Her Face" from Carnival! in 1961.

Jerry Orbach was born in the city that made him a star, New York (the Bronx, to be exact) in 1935. His father was a performer in vaudeville and his mother a singer on radio. In 1955, after a stint at Northwestern University, Orbach began his career on the stage in New York. He was part of the original cast of The Fantasticks, playing the narrator.

The Fantasticks led to more major roles on Broadway. Orbach appeared in Carnival!, Promises, Promises, Chicago, and 42nd Street. He won a Tony Award for his performance as Baxter in Promises, Promises (based on the classic movie The Apartment).

Beyond his successful career on Broadway, Orbach also appeared in motion pictures. playing roles in F/X, the 1985 version of Brewster's Millions, and Crimes and Misdemeanours. He did a good deal of voice work for animated films, his most famous being the work he did in Disney's Beauty and the Beast. He was the voice of Lumiere the Candlestick in Disney's Beauty and the Beast, complete with a vocal part in the movie's show stopper "Be Our Guest."

Of course, Orbach's greatest claim to fame is perhaps his role as Lennie Briscoe on Law and Order. Orbach was on the series for 12 years, longer than any other cast member of the series and one of the longest runs for any actor in prime time television. Orbach had a secondary role as Briscoe in the new spinoff, Law & Order: Trial by Jury. Although best known on television for Law and Order, Orbach also starred in the 1987 series The Law and Harry McGraw, playing the private detective of the title. He had previously played McGraw in several episodes of Murder She Wrote.

I am truly saddened by Orbach's passing. In recent years, Law and Order is one of the few series I have watched regularly and Detective Briscoe was always my favourite character. I also watched The Law and Harry McGraw and enjoyed Orbach's performance there. He was a versatile actor, capable of both humour and drama. And as he proved on Law and Order, he could bring humour to the most serious of situations. I regret to say that I have only seen a few clips of his performances on Broadway, but he seems to have had a remarkable voice. It is a shame that Orbach's career came about just as the Hollywood musical was on the way out--he could have been a great star of movie musicals. Regardless, he was a great actor and created one of the greatest characters on television. Given his success on Broadway, it would seem that Jerry Orbach will be remembered for a long time to come.

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