He also starred in Carnival!, the musical version of the movie Lili. He also starred in a revival of Guys and Dolls (Tony Award nomination for Best Featured Actor in a Musical), Promises, Promises (Tony Award for Best Actor in a Musical), the original productions of Chicago (Tony Award nomination for Best Actor in a Musical) and 42nd Street (playing famous Broadway director Julian Marsh), and a revival of The Cradle Will Rock. In the 1980s, he shifted to film work, including prominent roles as Jennifer Grey's father in Dirty Dancing, a cold-blooded killer in the Woody Allen drama Crimes and Misdemeanors, and the voice of the candelabra Lumière in Disney's animated musical Beauty and the Beast (a character he would reprise in every video sequel, as well as the House of Mouse tv series), and of Sa'luk in its 1996 video, Aladdin and the King of Thieves. He starred in the short-lived 1987 crime drama The Law and Harry McGraw (playing a role that he originated and later reprised as a regular guest star on Murder, She Wrote for several years), which foresaw his best-known role of all, that of Detective Lennie Briscoe in the series Law & Order (1992–2004). (He had previously appeared in a guest role as a defense attorney in the season two episode "The Wages of Love".) Orbach also voice acted the character for the video game spin-offs of the series. Orbach was signed to continue in the role on Law & Order: Trial by Jury.
He appeared in only the first two episodes of the series, which aired in March 2005, after his death. The fifth episode of the series, "Baby Boom", was dedicated to his memory. In early December 2004, it was announced that Orbach had been receiving treatment for prostate cancer since Spring 2004; he died from the cancer at the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York on December 28, 2004. Orbach was 69 years old. His agent, Robert Malcolm, announced at the time of his death that Orbach's prostate cancer had been diagnosed more than ten years before.
The day after his death, the marquees on Broadway were dimmed in mourning, one of the highest honors of the American theatre world. Orbach was married in 1958 to Marta Curro, with whom he had two sons, Anthony Nicholas and Christopher Ben; they divorced in 1975. In 1979, he married Broadway dancer Elaine Cancilla, whom he met while starring in Chicago. In addition to his sons and both wives, Orbach was survived by his mother. He was named a "Living Landmark", along with fellow castmate Sam Waterston, by the New York Landmarks Conservancy in 2002. He quipped that the honor meant "that they can't tear me down". Orbach lived in a high-rise off Eighth Avenue in Hell's Kitchen and was a fixture in that Manhattan neighborhood's restaurants and shops.
His glossy publicity photo hangs in Ms. Buffy's French Cleaners, and he was a regular at some of the Italian restaurants nearby. As of 2007, there is an effort to rename the intersection of 8th Avenue and 53rd Street in honor of Orbach, but has met with some resistance by local planning boards. On February 5, 2005, he was posthumously awarded a Screen Actors Guild Award for Outstanding Performance by a Male Actor in a Drama Series. Orbach was an eye donor; his eyes saved two people from blindness. Read more on Last.fm.
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