The Law & Order star's funeral attracts friends, relatives and fond memories

By Stephen M. Silverman
Updated January 03, 2005 08:05 AM

Friends and family members gathered Friday for a quintessential New York memorial service for a quintessential New York actor, Law & Order star Jerry Orbach, who died of prostate cancer last Tuesday. He was 69.

Among the 300 people paying their respects for the Bronx-born leading man: Chris Noth, Michael Imperioli, Benjamin Bratt, Olympia Dukakis, Brian Dennehy, Danny Aiello and Tony Roberts.

“He always knew his lines – and yours too,” quipped co-star Sam Waterston during the hour-long secular service at Riverside Memorial Chapel, reports the Associated Press.

Even in the last weeks before his death, Orbach still tried to enjoy everything, from the company of friends and family to what he saw from his window at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, said Waterston, adding, “He didn’t quit the show before it was over.”

Broadway legend Chita Rivera remembered Orbach from the 1975 production of Chicago, in which he originated the role of “Razzle Dazzle” shyster lawyer 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.”

Ed Sherin, executive producer of Law & Order (on which Orbach played wisecracking Detective Lennie Briscoe), recalled the star as “a deadly poker player,” an avid golfing partner and “my best friend.” Of that last label, Sherin added: “I imagine there are a lot of people here who would say the same.”

As for his golf game, Orbach was not a strict scorekeeper when playing with a friend, said Sherin.

Orbach lay in a simple wooden coffin draped with white blossoms. Family friend Elizabeth Hepburn officiated at the service, which opened and closed with a breathing meditation, interspersed with John Denver’s “Perhaps Love” played on a guitar.

The service concluded with a guitar rendition of “Lullaby of Broadway” and “Try to Remember” from the off-Broadway landmark The Fantasticks – the show that launched Orbach’s career in the early ’60s.