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The Many Faces of Jerry Orbach

Getty Images / NBC / NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images / Jessica Burstein

The Many Faces of Jerry Orbach

Jerry Orbach was many things to many people. His acting career was long and varied, with iconic roles that left many fans with a deep devotion to him. On what would have been Orbach's 77th birthday, we're remembering him as his fans saw him.

Father figure. For a generation of women – the ones who were young in the 1980s – Jerry Orbach was, above all else, Baby's dad in Dirty Dancing. His character could be closed-minded and overprotective (he did put Baby in a corner, after all), but he was a loving and devoted father, nonetheless.

Music man. Orbach got his start in the theatre before he ever worked in movies or TV. Younger fans might be surprised to hear it, but anyone who's followed his career since the 1960s knows about his singing and dancing talent. He starred in Guys and Dolls, Chicago, 42nd Street and others – and he originated the role of El Gallo in The Fantasticks.

Good cop. For 12 seasons, Orbach played one of the greatest TV detectives of all time. Law and Order's Lennie Briscoe was smart, tough, jaded, sarcastic… and awesome. We loved watching Orbach get the bad guy, and we would have continued watching for many more seasons, if he hadn't died just as he was beginning a run on spin-off Law and Order: Trial by Jury.

Romantic hero. Five years after his death, we were charmed by Jerry Orbach all over again when a volume of his love letters to his wife, Elaine, was published. We learned that every day, he wrote a love poem to Elaine – they were sometimes sweet, sometimes silly, and always a delight:

When did I fall in love with you?
When I asked you to Boston?
What matters how our love began,
(I sound just like Jane Austen!)
I only know I love you still,
and I'm not being clever,
I always have and always will
our love will last forever!

Candlestick? Sure! (We told you he was versatile…) For the little brothers and sisters of Dirty Dancing superfans – and now for their children, too – Beauty and the Beast's Lumiere is an all-time favorite. The younger set might not know that Lumiere shares a voice with Baby's dad/El Gallo/Lennie Briscoe… they just know he’s the coolest candlestick ever.