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Jerry Orbach's 'Extraordinary' 25 Year Marriage Saw Him Declare His Love with Poems Every Day

Titi Dokubo
Mar 29, 2022
07:20 A.M.

"Law and Order" Jerry Orbach met his wife while acting on Broadway. He captured her heart with his romance and gave her a flirty nickname, "wabbit."

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The couple met when Jerry Orbach was newly divorced, and he had to spend the weekends with his children. They had limited time to spend on dates but got married years later.

Throughout their marriage, the actor never forgot the details of their relationship and used them in romantic ways to celebrate his wife. Here is a look at how Jerry Orbach declared his love for his wife.

Photo of Jerry Orbach on the set of "Law and Order" [left], Jerry Orbach and Elaine at the National Board of Review awards dinner on January 16, 2001, in New York City [right] | Source: Getty Images

Photo of Jerry Orbach on the set of "Law and Order" [left], Jerry Orbach and Elaine at the National Board of Review awards dinner on January 16, 2001, in New York City [right] | Source: Getty Images

Jerry Orbach changed his wife's life with a single greeting. When they first met, he said, "Hiya, kid," which began their two-decade love story filled with laughter, fun, and adventure.

Besides being a romantic partner and a loyal husband, the talented actor had fans who loved him for his iconic role in "Law and Order."

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His wife adored his sense of romance, and even after 25 years together, she thought their marriage ended too soon. However, it would always be a part of her.

Elaine Orbach and Jerry Orbach at the 42nd Annual Emmy Awards in California | Source: Getty Images

Elaine Orbach and Jerry Orbach at the 42nd Annual Emmy Awards in California | Source: Getty Images

Born Jerome Bernard Orbach on October 20, 1935, he was the only child of a former vaudevillian actor and a radio singer. His family moved around a lot as a child, and Orbach learned to adapt and blend in.

His musical roots initially made it difficult for him to get acting roles in television and films after studying drama at the University of Illinois and Northwestern University.

He starred in "Chicago," "Dirty Dancing," "Homicide: Life on the Street," but became known for his role as Detective Lennie Briscoe in "Law & Order." Before his death, Orbach held the record for most musical stage performances.

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Elaine Orbach and Jerry Orbach circa 1990 | Source: Getty Images

Elaine Orbach and Jerry Orbach circa 1990 | Source: Getty Images

THE START OF A GREAT RELATIONSHIP

Orbach met his second wife, Elaine Cancilla, in 1975 when she grudgingly accepted the role of a standby for Velma Kelly in the original production of "Chicago" on Broadway.

From the age of ten to when she turned 16, Cancilla studied dance and auditioned at the School of the American Ballet, where she received a full scholarship and started classes at 17.

Cancilla decided to become a show dancer and landed her first Broadway musical, "Fiorello!," at 19. She became Bob Fosse's favorite dancer and starred in more Broadway shows like "Here's Love!" "Baker Street," "Sweet Charity," and more.

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Jerry Orbach on the set of the Broadway musical "Chicago" on March 31, 1974 | Source: Getty Images

Jerry Orbach on the set of the Broadway musical "Chicago" on March 31, 1974 | Source: Getty Images

As a standby, she did not have a dressing room and would always hang out offstage in the wings where she observed the character she was standing by for.

While she watched her character, she also took note of Orbach, who would always greet her whenever he made his entrance. After learning her role, she no longer needed to watch and had to wander around.

One day, Orbach told her she could use his dressing room because he was always out with the crew playing poker when he was not on stage.

Elaine Orbach and Jerry Orbach at the Annual DW Griffith Awards on Febuary 24, 1992 | Source: Getty Images

Elaine Orbach and Jerry Orbach at the Annual DW Griffith Awards on Febuary 24, 1992 | Source: Getty Images

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They rarely had time to chat because he was always truly out, but as weeks went by, they started being flirty and found ways to have a discussion.

One winter, Orbach gave her a nickname that stuck. That winter, she bought a rabbit fur jacket, and Orbach would say "Here comes the wabbit" whenever he saw her.

One evening, after the show, Cancilla went with her friend to the leading theater restaurant and bar. However, there was a crowd, and they had nowhere to sit.

Elaine Orbach and Jerry Orbach at The American Theatre Wing Gala on April 15, 2002 | Source: Getty Images

Elaine Orbach and Jerry Orbach at The American Theatre Wing Gala on April 15, 2002 | Source: Getty Images

Orbach asked them to stand with him, but Cancilla was sitting on his lap before the evening was over because he was tired and didn't want to give up his seat.

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He dropped her off at home, they necked, which started their relationship. Unfortunately, they could not have traditional dates because he was fresh out of a divorce and had to spend the weekends with his two young sons.

However, the couple made the best of their plight by slipping out for dinners when they could or by going out on dates before the show. Three years later, they got married.

Elaine Orbach and Jerry Orbach at the 5th Annual Directors Guild Of America Honors on September 29, 2004 | Source: Getty Images

Elaine Orbach and Jerry Orbach at the 5th Annual Directors Guild Of America Honors on September 29, 2004 | Source: Getty Images

JERRY ORBACH'S DECLARATIONS OF LOVE

Cancilla had made her name in the theater by the time they married. After years of marriage, Orbach never forgot the details of their relationship and always used them for his poems.

Orbach started writing the poems at 2 a.m. when he returned home, and she was asleep. Also, because of his busy schedule on the set of "Law and Order," he continued with the poems as he was out before she was awake.

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He would leave the poems next to her coffee cup, and for Cancilla, those poems made her day start with love and smiles. The routine became a part of their daily lives, and she could not throw them away because she felt they were special.

Photo of Jerry Orbach on the set of "Law and Order" | Source: Getty Images

Photo of Jerry Orbach on the set of "Law and Order" | Source: Getty Images

She started tossing them in a big soup tureen they got as a gift, and one day, she realized the tureen was full. The poems helped to keep their relationship alive in a unique way.

He talked about different things in his poems, but the central theme was always about their love. Cancilla called them her love letters.

After he died on December 28, 2004, she shared some of the poems with the world in a book titled "Remember How I Love You: Love Letters from an Extraordinary Marriage."

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Elaine Orbach and Jerry Orbach at the Release of "Law & Order: Crime Scenes" Book | Source: Getty Images

Elaine Orbach and Jerry Orbach at the Release of "Law & Order: Crime Scenes" Book | Source: Getty Images

JERRY ORBACH'S SURVIVING FAMILY

The actor who had a gift for charming audiences had prostate cancer for a decade before he passed away at 69. His widow died from pneumonia on April 1, 2009.

From Orbach's first marriage, his sons, Chris and Anthony, survived him. Both sons followed in their father's footsteps.

Jerry Orbach playing pool with his son Anthony | Source: Getty Images

Jerry Orbach playing pool with his son Anthony | Source: Getty Images

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According to his IMDB profile, there is very little information about his eldest son Anthony, but he is an actor and starred in "Law and Order." He is currently married with two kids.

Chris is an actor, writer, singer-songwriter, musician, and national TV and radio voiceover artist. He attended the High School For Performing Arts and graduated from NYU's Tisch School of the arts with a BFA in Film and Television production.

He has starred in "Peg O' My Heart," "Lost In Staten Island," "Uber Mom," and even starred in "Law & Order: Special Victims Unit" as the nephew of his real-life father.

Chris is married to a designer and event planner Nicole Vallance, and they have a son, Aaron, born in 2014, and a daughter Emilia born in 2019.

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