Jerry Orbach of ‘Law & Order’ Left His Kids With Almost Nothing as He Gave His Wealth to Widow

Late Hollywood actor, Jerry Orbach’s widow, Elaine Orbach, was the sole heir of his fortune following his passing in 2004, and this caused quite some drama in a feud between Elaine and Orbach’s sons.

Jerry Orbach’s life on television and Hollywood as a whole will always be remembered as the era of a versatile stage and film actor. Still, he will also be remembered for the controversies after his passing.

The details of Jerry’s will were the beginning of a public fight between his wife and kids, which spawned scandals. Jerry was indeed a fulfilled man in life, but was he fulfilled in death? Here are all the details of his family clash. 

Jerry Orbach and wife Elaine arrive at the Waldorf-Astoria for the American Museum of the Moving Image’s Salute to Julia Roberts circa 2000. [Left] | Photo of late Jerry Orbach’s son, Chris, wearing a black jacket and looking away. [Right] | Photo: Getty Images


Jerry Orbach, a Bronx native, was born in 1935, but his acting career started in 1955 when he was in his twenties. Orbach enjoyed a life both in TV and film for over four decades before his passing.

His career morphed from Broadway through film and then TV as he appeared in projects including “Promises, Promises,” which earned him his first Tony award, “The Fantasticks,” “Crimes and Misdemeanors, “Dirty Dancing,” and “Prince of the City.” 

Jerry Orbach in a promotional shoot for TV series “Law & Order” | Photo: Getty Images

As a famous face on TV, Jerry starred in “Golden Girls,” “Murder, She Wrote,” but his most known role was as Lennie Briscoe in “Law & Order.” Jerry bagged the role in 1990 and became a staple until 2004, when he passed on.

Besides delivering the Lennie Briscoe role and giving “Law & order” its credibility among legendary TV shows, Jerry’s real-life is not far removed from Briscoe. Briscoe, a former high school swimmer, and staunch lawman, is a dad of two, with two failed marriages and a journey to sobriety. 

Jerry Orbach arrives at the NBC upfront at Radio City Music Hall in New York City. | Photo: Getty Images

Jerry himself once confirmed that Briscoe indeed portrayed fragments of his life, saying, “Lennie is sort of half of me and half the character.” Three years after Jerry began his career, he married fellow actor Marta Curro, and they became parents to two sons.

Their sons, Anthony “Tony” and Christopher “Chris,” were born before the couple legally separated in 1975. He remarried another actress and his “Chicago” co-star, Elaine Cancilla, in 1979.

The actress also clarified that her late husband donated his eyes to the Eye Bank Association of America.

Actor Jerry Orbach stands at the premiere of the musical “Chicago.” | Photo: Getty Images

Jerry’s death was announced on December 28, 2004, following a decade-long battle with cancer. Reports showed that the star passed on at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in Manhattan.

His struggle with prostate cancer ended after he suffered complications during treatment. Jerry died at 69. The award-winning actor was survived by his two grown sons, Chris and Tony, as well as his second wife, Elaine.

Fans would later witness the messy rift between the actor’s wife and his children due to the issue of his inheritance. After Jerry’s will was read, things went downhill.


Actor Jerry Orbach takes a break March 19, 2001 from the filming of his TV show “Law and Order” in New York City. | Photo: Getty Images

Jerry’s will read that Elaine was left as the sole heir of his $10 million estate and other holdings while funds were set aside for his children. The funds were also to be held in trust until Elaine’s death.

This did not sit well with the “Who’s the Boss?” actor’s sons, and they did not hesitate to lash out and contest the will. The following years had them going head-to-head with their stepmom, and it all played out before fans.

Jerry’s sons grew up to become actors, with Tony’s IMDb profile citing his acting credits as “Law & Order: SVU.” Tony is married, and he has two children.

Elaine Cancilla-Orbach poses with the Snapple Theater dedication logo to her late husband Jerry Orbach at the Snapple Theater. | Photo: Getty Images

Much of Tony’s life is not in the public eye, but it seems his brother, Chris, has a more extensive public profile. Chirs is an actor and writer like his brother, and he also starred in “Law & Order: SVU.”

According to his website, the actor started acting relatively early by training as a performing arts student in high school. He graduated with a BFA in Film and Television productions from Tisch school of the arts.

More of Chris’s acting credits include “Blue Moon,” “Stake Out, and “Mob Father: Permanent Rehab.” Chris, who is married with two kids, is also a singer and a songwriter. 

Jerry Orbach during Broadway Musical “Hall of Fame” – Launch Party at Letizia Restaurant in New York City, New York, United States. | Photo: Getty Images

The Orbach brothers had difficulty coming to terms with what their father left behind, but Chris left no stones unturned while hashing things out with Elaine. In 2008, he addressed a private message to Elaine.

However, the contents got out, and in it, Chris barred his stepmother, calling her names and claiming that she influenced his dad to pen the unfavorable will.

He referred to Elaine as “a double-dealing, lying, scheming, miserable fool,” who cut off Jerry’s sons from his inheritance. Chris claimed that his stepmother did this with the help of “cut-throat, borscht-belt” attorneys. 

The singer added that his father’s eyes were “shucked out” after his passing. Marta Curro would later lend her voice in the feud, noting that her son should not have called Elaine out in that manner while also affirming that Chirs did well by confronting Elaine.

Elaine later shared her side of the story noting that she was shocked to receive the four-paged letter she referred to as “vomit.” Elaine added that she thought she had a cordial relationship with Chris.

The actress also clarified that her late husband donated his eyes to the Eye Bank Association of America. She recalled that her spouse stated he could not give out his lungs due to his drinking habit but chose to donate his eyes. 

The build-up of Jerry’s family feud might have come off as a sore spot for those who loved and cherished the life he lived, but the good times will never be forgotten.

Jerry was a hardworking actor, and for this reason, his co-stars on “Law & Order” helped him pull through his final scenes, even as he suffered the throes of prostate cancer. 

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