|The stars turned out Friday in New York to remember, mourn and memorialize Jerry Orbach as a great song-and-dance man, an astute poker player, an avid golfer, a fine friend and coworker and a quintessential New Yorker. |
The Bronx-born Tony winner, most famous as the sleepy-eyed, seen-it-all, wisecracking detective Lennie Briscoe on Law & Order, died of prostate cancer on Tuesday at 69.
About 300 friends, including many who patrolled the airwaves with Orbach during his 12-year stint on L&O, joined Orbach's family for the hour-long secular service at Riverside Memorial Chapel on Manhattan's West Side. His TV boss, S. Epatha Merkerson (lieutenant Anita Van Buren), was on hand, as were his three partners, Chris Noth (detective Mike Logan), Benjamin Bratt (detective Rey Curtis) and final sidekick Jesse L. Martin (detective Ed Green). Representing the Law were Sam Waterston (assistant D.A. Jack McCoy) and show alum and current Crossing Jordan star Jill Hennessy (who was assistant D.A. Claire Kincaid).
Also present were fellow members of the Friars Club, former New York Mayor David Dinkins, veteran character actors like Olympia Dukakis, Danny Aiello and Brian Dennehy (who worked with Orbach on the 1986 thriller F/X), and stars who had hoofed and crooned with Orbach onstage.
Chita Rivera, who costarred with Orbach in the 1970s in the musical Chicago, recalls how he looked originating the role of Billy Flynn. "This huge silhouette would appear in a fedora, smoking a cigar," she said. "There was our anchor. There was our rock in a pinstriped suit."
Waterston spoke of Orbach's reassuring presence and his innate professionalism, joking, "He always knew his lines--and yours, too." Addressing the mourners, Waterston struggled to keep his composure, recounting how even during Orbach's final weeks at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center his spirit and determination were strong. "He chose a certain life, lived it as himself--and it worked out," said Waterston. "He didn't quit the show before it was over."
According to press reports, Orbach lay in a simple wooden coffin draped with white blossoms. Family friend Elizabeth Hepburn led the gathering in breathing meditation, while cabaret singer Alice Evans performed the John Denver song "Perhaps Love."
Meanwhile, Ed Sherin, an executive producer of Law & Order, described Orbach as someone who would "break into song" at any moment. Sherin said Orbach was "my best friend--and I imagine there are a lot of people here who would say the same." Sherin recalled Orbach as a "deadly poker player" and a great golf partner.
Orbach, who won his Tony in 1969 for Promises, Promises received the Great White Way's ultimate tribute, a darkening of theater marquees in his memory on Wednesday. Friday's service also recalled Orbach's stage roots as "Lullaby of Broadway" was strummed on guitar, along with "Try to Remember", the signature tune of the off-Broadway hit The Fantasticks, where Orbach had first found fame originating the role of el Gallo.
Orbach, who, after being diagnosed with cancer, left Law & Order for the less taxing schedule of Law & Order: Trial by Jury, will be seen as Briscoe in three episodes of the spinoff series when it premieres early this year.