‘Law & Order’: Lieutenant Van Buren Actor Shares Tear-Jerking Memory of Co-Star Jerry Orbach’s Final Days

by Jacklyn Krol
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S. Epatha Merkerson, who played Lieutenant Anita Van Buren on Law & Order, shared one of her final memories with co-star Jerry Orbach.

For twelve years and fourteen seasons, he portrayed Detective Lennie Briscoe. He also portrayed the character as he filmed Law & Order: Trial By Jury prior to his passing. During his final scene, he couldn’t speak above a whisper from the harsh treatments he endured. The show’s creators worked around it and created a memorable sendoff.

Orbach passed away on December 28, 2004, at a Manhattan hospital from prostate cancer. He was 69.

Merkerson told Foundation Interviews that he was sick for roughly ten years. Despite his illness, she never believed that he would die from it. They would often joke that they would portray their characters even in old age.

“When he left the show, that’s when I knew he was really ill,” she told the outlet. “There’s a picture of me and Jesse [L. Martin] and Jerry and it was at it was after he shot his last Law & Order scene. I see that picture now and I know exactly what I was feeling.”

She knew that she was getting ready to cry, in that moment she realized that he was going to die.

“I love that photograph because he never stopped fighting. He was a great guy,” she added.

One of the aspects she admired about him was his “master” craft at telling jokes. Merkerson admitted that she is the worst at delivering a joke, or even remembering one for that matter.

At one point, he gave her three jokes with the opening and punchlines. He warned her that he would ask her to recite the jokes the next day. Even though she memorizes lines effortlessly for the show, she couldn’t remember them.

New York City ‘Law & Order’ Tributes

In 2004, Orbach was named a “New York City Living Legend.” He spoke about the honor of becoming a “living landmark” during an appearance on Conan O’Brien.

When asked how it made him feel to receive the honor, he said, “old.”

“It was great. It was terrific. They made this thing of Living Landmarks. And I guess it means they can’t tear me down, like a landmark building,” he joked.

The Big Apple features numerous streets that were named after famous people. Orbach’s wife Elaine wanted to name the intersection of West 53rd and 8th Avenue, where they lived, after him.

Finally, in 2007, the request and pleas were heard after years of discussions. The street became “Jerry Orbach Way.” Some of his former co-stars and family attended the official dedication ceremony on September 17, 2007.

Outsider.com