×
Cookies help us deliver our Services. By using our Services, you agree to our use of cookies. Learn More.

Law And Order Actors You May Not Know Passed Away

One of the longest-running live-action scripted primetime series on American television — a feat surpassed only by the classic Western drama "Gunsmoke" and "Law & Order: Special Victims Unit" (SVU), the most successful of its many spin-off series — producer/creator Dick Wolf's Emmy-winning "Law & Order" aired for 20 seasons on NBC between 1990 and 2010. During that period, a virtual army of actors have handled both the enforcement and prosecutorial sides of its stories. 

Chief among them were Sam Waterston, who starred as District Attorney (DA) Jack McCoy from Seasons 5 through 20; S. Epatha Merkerson as Lieutenant Anita Van Buren (Seasons 5-20); Chris Noth, who played Detective Mike Logan from Seasons 1 to 5; Jerry Orbach as the inimitable Det. Lennie Briscoe (Seasons 3-14); and Jesse L. Martin as Det. Ed Green (Seasons 10-18). 

Dozens of other actors logged hours at the New York Police Department's 27th Homicide Precinct and New York County's District Attorney's Office over the course of the show's lengthy and popular network run. Many remain active in features and on television, while others have passed away in recent years. In honor of all the times their stories thrilled, chilled and otherwise captivated us, here's a list of the notable "Law & Order" cast members and recurring players who have passed away. 

Broadway vet Jerry Orbach was Det. Lenny Briscoe

Arguably one of the most popular characters in the "Law & Order” network run, cagey Detective Lennie Briscoe brought actor Jerry Orbach to national attention after a long and award-winning run on the Broadway stage and as a character actor in films and television. Orbach had been an original cast member in "The Fantasticks," the world's longest-running musical, and netted a Tony nomination as Billy Flynn in the original production of "Chicago"; his film roles included iconic work as Jennifer Grey's father in "Dirty Dancing" and the voice of Lumiere in Disney's animated "Beauty and the Beast."

Despite those laurels, Orbach's turn as Briscoe, which began with Season 3's "Point of View" in 1992, remained one of his most widely seen and well-regarded mainstream showcases. Orbach's streetwise performance netted an Emmy nomination and nine Screen Actors Guild nods for ensemble. 

He was diagnosed with prostate cancer two years into his stint on the show, but remained in treatment for the next decade until retiring from the series in Season 14 in 2004, which made him one of the longest-running actors in its two-decade history. After reprising Briscoe for two episodes of the short-lived "Law & Order" spin-off "Trial By Jury," Orbach died at the age of 69 on December 28, 2004. Briscoe was named 15th in a 2007 TV Guide list of the 25 greatest TV detectives.

Reluctant TV star Steven Hill played DA Adam Schiff

An original "Law & Order" cast member, Steven Hill played the steely but philosophical New York Count District Attorney Adam Schiff from its debut episode, "Prescription for Death," in 1990 (replacing Roy Thinnes, who played DA Alfred Wentworth in the pilot, "Everybody's Favorite Bagman") until season 10's "Vaya Con Dios" a decade later.

The show wasn't Hill's first bout with TV stardom: active in live production during the "Golden Age of Television" in the 1950s, he played Dan Briggs, leader of the Impossible Missions Force, on the first season of the original TV version of "Mission: Impossible" from 1966 to 1967. He departed the series for unspecified reasons — "Variety" noted that Hill's religion (Orthodox Judaism) reportedly put him in conflict with shooting schedules due to observation of the Sabbath on Friday evenings — and remained off-screen for much of the 1970s. Appearances in '80s features like "Raw Deal" preceded his return to the spotlight on "L&O."

Hill retired from both the series and acting in 2000 with two Emmy nominations and seven Screen Actors Guild nods to his name. He died at the age of 94 on August 23, 2016 in Monsey, New York.

Fred Dalton Thompson: from Senator to DA Arthur Branch

Prior to joining the cast of "Law & Order" as District Attorney Arthur Branch on Season 13's "American Jihad," Fred Dalton Thompson had one of the most unique careers of any working actor in Hollywood. 

A former U.S. attorney and minority counsel for the Senate Watergate Committee in the 1970s, Thompson was a two-term Tennessee senator from 1994 to 2003, and even ran for president in 2007. His acting career began in 1985 when director Roger Donaldson asked him to play himself in the film "Marie," about a corruption case against Tennessee's governor that Thompson had assisted. He parlayed the performance into steady work as authority figures in films like "The Hunt for Red October," "Cape Fear," "Sinister and perhaps most memorably, "Die Hard 2."

Thompson joined "Law and Order" during his final term as a senator, and played Branch for five seasons before departing in 2007 to oversee his presidential bid. He also played Branch on four other "Law and Order" series, including 11 episodes of "SVU" and 13 episodes of "Trial By Jury," for which he served as a series regular while also starring on "Law & Order." Diagnosed with non-Hodgkin's lymphoma in 2004, Thompson died after a recurrence of the disease at the age of 73 on November 1, 2015.

Dennis Farina was a cop in real life and on TV

Character actor Dennis Farina lent authentic law enforcement flavor to his two-year run as the larger-than-life Detective Joe Fontana on "Law and Order." 

Like his character, Farina had been a former member of the Chicago Police Department and served as a consultant to writer-director Michael Mann, who cast him as the lead in his cult TV series "Crime Story" before segueing into acting roles in films like "Midnight Run," "Saving Private Ryan," and "Get Shorty." Farina stepped into big shoes when he joined the series in Season 15's "Paradigm": Jerry Orbach had just left the drama, which needed a lead detective to partner with detectives Ed Green (Jesse L. Martin) and Nick Falco (Michael Imperioli).

Farina left the series at the end of Season 16 to pursue other projects. These included stints as host of "Unsolved Mysteries" and a recurring role on "New Girl," as well as features like "What Happens in Vegas." Farina died from a pulmonary embolism at the age of 69 in Scottsdale, Arizona on July 22, 2013.

Lynn Cohen brought the order as Judge Mizener

Best known to television audiences as Magda, Miranda's stern housekeeper/nanny on "Sex and the City," Lynn Cohen was a versatile character actor whose career included numerous Broadway productions and appearances in Steven Spielberg's "Munich" (as Golda Meir) and as Mags Flanagan, the oldest Hunger Games competitor, in "The Hunger Games: Catching Fire."

Between these roles, Cohen enjoyed a recurring role on "Law and Order" as Manhattan Judge Elizabeth Mizener. The character made her debut on the series in Season 4's "Profile," and returned 11 more times, most notably as the presiding judge in Executive ADA McCoy's attempt to bring down the people who killed ADA Alexandra Borgia (Annie Parisse) in Season 16's "Invaders."

In addition to her "Law and Order" stints, Cohen also logged two episodes apiece on both "SVU" and "Criminal Intent." She continued working in features and on television until February 14, 2020, when she died in New York City at the age of 86.

Doris Belack, the "Law & Order" judge to fear

Prosecutors on "Law & Order" probably trembled a bit upon discovering that Trial and Arraignment Judge Margaret Barry was presiding over their case. 

Barry, a New York Supreme Court judge in 10 episodes, as well as two cases on "SVU," all between 1990 and 2001, demanded rock-solid evidence from the prosecution. In Season 11's "School Daze," she threw a wrench into McCoy's case against an alleged school shooter by granting the defense — Carey Lowell's Jamie Ross — the right to suppress key evidence, including an alleged murder weapon.

Judge Barry was played by Doris Belack, a respected actress on the New York stage and television, and a memorable comic presence in feature films like "Tootsie" and "What About Bob?" and even video games like "Grand Theft Auto IV." The latter proved to be the final acting credit in her long career: Belack died of natural causes at the age of 85 in New York City on October, 4, 2011.

James Rebhorn played lawyers, villains, and victims on Law & Order

In his seven guest appearances on "Law and Order", character actor James Rebhorn appeared on both sides of the witness stand, playing a diabolical criminal, a dogged lawyer, and even the intended victim of a crime. 

Rebhorn's extensive CV included supporting roles in "Independence Day" and "My Cousin Vinny," as well as TV series like "Seinfeld," for which he played the lawyer that sent Jerry, George, Elaine, and Kramer to jail in the series finale. He debuted on the series in Season 2's "Vengeance" as a vicious serial killer who returned to his murder spree after a five-year prison sentence. He then made his first of five guest shots as Defense Attorney Charles Garnett in Season 5's "Progeny."

After logging his final turn as Garnett in Season 12's "Dazzled," Reborn returned in a small but critical role as a doctor targeted for his role in a lethal injection in Season 18's "Executioner." Following that 2008 performance, Reborn returned to a busy schedule of TV and film appearances, including "30 Rock" and a recurring role on "Homeland," before logging his final screen role in the 2013 TV movie "Ordained." Diagnosed with melanoma in 1992, Rebhorn died from the disease at the age of 65 on March 14, 2014.

Mark Blum tangled with McCoy and Stone

Film, TV, and stage actor Mark Blum appeared as three different characters on four episodes of "Law & Order." 

The most notable of these was as Brooklyn Assistant District Attorney Frank Lazar, who butted heads with Michael Moriarty's Benjamin Stone in Season 3's "Jurisdiction," and Jack McCoy in Season 9's "Agony." Lazar left the DA's office after the dust-up with Stone, and worked for the litigation department of a Wall Street firm when he tangled with McCoy over serial killer Matt Bergstrom in "Agony."

Blum, best known to moviegoers as Rosanna Arquette's duplicitous husband in "Desperately Seeking Susan," logged numerous appearances in features and on television, building an award-winning career on the New York stage. He won an Obie Award in 1989 for the Off Broadway drama "Gus and Al," and appeared opposite several fellow "Law & Order" alum, including Philip Bosco, Dan Hedaya, and James Rebhorn, in a 2004 Broadway production of "Twelve Angry Men."

Married to actress Janet Zarish — herself a three-time "Law & Order" guest star — Blum died of complications from the coronavirus at the age of 69 on March 25, 2020.

George Grizzard's Arthur Gold was a formidable foe

A Tony Award-winning veteran of the Broadway stage and a prolific television guest star with two Emmy nominations and one win, actor George Grizzard brought his exceptional versatility to five guest appearances on "Law & Order" as the sly defense attorney Arthur Gold. 

A longtime rival of Benjamin Stone, Gold's court strategy was to wear down prosecutors and judges alike by filing a flurry of motions during the case. He employed this attack throughout his five appearances, which began with Season 2's "Severance," and did his best to vex both Stone and Jack McCoy. Gold even returned from retirement in Season 7's "Matrimony" to reprise his legal shenanigans.

Grizzard's final turn as Gold came with Season 11's "Dissonance" in 2000. He continued to work steadily on stage and in features like Clint Eastwood's "Flags of Our Fathers" until 2006. He died the following year at the age of 79 from complications of lung cancer on October 2, 2007.

Ron McLarty was an actor and author

A familiar face to film and TV audiences for more than three decades, actor Ron McLarty made five appearances on "Law & Order," four of which were as Manhattan Judge William Wright, a thorn in Jack McCoy's side on several high-profile cases. 

Wright overturned a rape conviction of teenagers who had assaulted a mentally disabled girl in Season 8's "Damaged" and went head to head with DA Nora Lewin (Dianne Wiest) over his beef with McCoy in Season 11's "Dissonance." In addition to his "Law & Order" appearances, McLarty played Wright on an episode of "Trial By Jury."

Though best known for his acting career, which included a series regular role on the original TV adaptation of "Spenser: For Hire" and turns in "The Postman" and "St. Vincent," McLarty was an author and playwright, and made headlines in 2001 after an audiobook recording of his unpublished novel, "The Memory of Running," won praise from Stephen King. The publicity spurred Penguin Books to buy the rights to the book for $2 million in 2004.

McLarty, who retired from acting after being diagnosed with dementia in 2014, died at the age of 72 on February 8, 2020.

Ron Silver played many lawyers in film and on TV

Two-time Emmy nominee and Tony Award-winning actor Ron Silver played more than his share of legal eagles, including real-life lawyers Alan Dershowitz in the Oscar-winning thriller "Reversal of Fortune" and Robert Shapiro in the TV-movie "American Tragedy," over the course of his three decade career. 

Between these efforts – and in addition to numerous film and television roles, ranging from "Blue Steel" and "Ali" to "Timecop" and "Find Me Guilty" (which added a judge to his list of legal roles) — Silver played tenacious defense attorney Bernie Adler in two episodes of "Law & Order": Season 15's "Paradigm" and Season 17's "Talking Points."

He later reprised Adler for "Eros in the Upper Eighties," an episode of "Trial By Jury," which did not air on NBC prior to its cancellation in 2006 (it has subsequently aired in syndication and in international markets). Silver, a political activist who hosted a public affairs program on satellite radio in 2008, died from esophageal cancer at his home in Manhattan, New York, on March 15, 2009.

Philip Bosco: judge, lawyer, and guest star

American Theater Hall of Fame member Philip Bosco was a six-time Tony Award nominee (and winner in 1989 for "Lend Me a Tenor") and a veteran character actor in films and on television, most notably in "My Best Friend's Wedding" and the indie "The Savages" with Philip Seymour Hoffman

Like many working New York actors, he logged numerous appearances on the "Law & Order" franchise, including five episodes on the flagship series and six guest shots on "Special Victims Unit."

He played defense attorney Gordon Schell on three episodes of "Law & Order," beginning with Season 1's "Happily Ever After" before a one-shot as Dobbs, an attorney who attempted to claim that his mob boss client was mentally incompetent, in Season 8's "Faccia a Faccia." Bosco returned the following season for another one-off turn on "Shield" before moving to "SVU" to play the poker-loving Judge Joseph Terhune on six episodes of that series. His last screen role came with the 2009 indie "When the Evening Comes"; Bosco died as a result of complications from dementia at the age of 88 on December 3, 2018.

Larry Sherman: judge of all trades

One of the most frequently employed actors who played trial judges on "Law & Order" actually wore many hats over the course of his long career, including TV writer, journalist, and publicist. 

Larry Sherman, who played Judge Colin Fraser on 13 episodes between Seasons 5 and 15, began appearing on the Broadway stage and screen in the 1940s, and logged uncredited roles in Alfred Hitchcock's "North by Northwest," among other films. He then segued into sports journalism in the 1960s and writing for game shows in the 1970s before serving as head of public relations for the New Jersey Generals, a United States Football League team owned at one point by future President Donald Trump.

Sherman returned to acting in the 1990s, often serving as a background player in projects like "Reversal of Fortune," starring fellow "Law & Order" alum Ron Silver. In 1994, he began his run as Judge Fraser, which concluded with Season 15's "Publish and Perish" in 2005. After logging his final film appearance in the Robert De Niro drama "The Comedian" — in which he uttered a single word: "Poopie" – Sherman died the following year from natural causes at the age of 94. Like the other aforementioned actors above, his episodes are well worth tracking down the next time you're in need of a dependable drama fix.