December 30, 2004

Orbach, a true New Yorker


New York oozed from Jerry Orbach, the Bronx-born T.V. cop with the smart-aleck comment on his lips and the take-out coffee cup in his hands. "I live it, love it and represent it," the "Law & Order" star, who lived in Midtown and died Wednesday, once said. As Lennie Briscoe, the jaded but generous NYPD homicide detective on NBC, Orbach fully personified the city, in all its grit and bluster. "He was never a caricature, like some of the people that play cops and detectives," said Joseph Pentangelo, a former police detective turned actor, who played beside him on several episodes. With the show filming regularly in all five boroughs, especially near the court complexes in downtown Manhattan, Orbach was a celebrity New Yorkers got to see in person often. And although the show spotlighted a new murder every week -- hardly the stuff of travel brochures -- city officials heaped praise on it for filming here. "He illustrated that you can do very dynamic episodic shows within the city," said Katherine Oliver, commissioner of the Mayor's Office of Film, Theatre and Broadcasting. "They take the script from the headlines, so it is reality television at its best." Orbach loved being here. "It's just been a dream job," he told the Associated Press in 2000. "I get to sleep in my own bed." Outside of work, Orbach was often spotted visiting friends in the Theatre District, but had no favorite hang-outs. "He always said he had too many to choose from," said his longtime publicist Audrey Davis. He was a longtime advocate for better wages for police officers, appearing at rallies with the Patrolmen's Benevolent Association and at events for slain officers' families. "He played a cop on T.V., but he absolutely had respect for them," said Patrick Lynch, the PBA president. Officers routinely thanked him. The rest of the city related to his on-screen temperament -- his prickly shell and sentimental interior, his even tone, his sense of fairness. "There's a feeling that I am a typical New Yorker -- and everyone else seems to agree," he told a Scottish paper in 2002. "I'm the guy on the street who everybody waves to."