Jerry Orbach never won the Emmy for playing Detective Lennie Briscoe, but he earned something greater: the audience’s respect and affection for giving life to a memorable character.

With the actor gone from “Law & Order” this season, the long-running NBC drama lost a good deal of its sardonic flavor.

The news Wednesday morning of Orbach’s death was such a shock because he was such a dependable, energetic presence.

He died at age 69 of prostate cancer Tuesday night in Manhattan.

Orbach was continuing his role as Briscoe on the upcoming “Trial by Jury,” another spin-off of “Law & Order.”

“I’m immensely saddened by the passing not only of a friend and colleague, but a legendary figure of 20th-century show business,” “Law & Order” creator Dick Wolf said in a statement.

“He was one of the most-honored performers of his generation. His loss is irreplaceable.”

That is not hyperbole. Many “Law & Order” fans might not realize that the Bronx-born Orbach was one of Broadway’s great song-and-dance men.

He won the Tony for the musical “Promises, Promises.”

He also starred in “Carnival” and “42nd Street.” He created the role of the shady lawyer in “Chicago,” a part that Richard Gere assumed in the Oscar-winning film.

Orbach appeared as the narrator in the original cast of “The Fantasticks,” a musical that ran for more than 40 years in New York.

In the movies, Orbach provided the voice of Lumiere the candelabrum in Disney’s “Beauty and the Beast.” His other film credits included “Dirty Dancing,” “Prince of the City” and “Crimes and Misdemeanors.”

But his role as Briscoe brought him his greatest fame, as well as long-sought security.

“All my life, since I was 16, I’ve been wondering where that next job was gonna come from,” he told the Associated Press in 2000. “Now I take the summer off, relax, and I know that at the end of July we’re gonna start another season.”

He played the role on the original “Law & Order” for 12 seasons, starting in 1992. He received an Emmy nomination in 2000 for playing Briscoe.

He also earned Emmy nominations for a guest appearance on “The Golden Girls” and for a supporting role in the TV movie “Broadway Bound.”

“Not to blow my own horn, but I think it is kind of unusual that I can sing, I can perform on the stage, and I can also act in front of a camera,” Orbach said in 1994. “Not a lot of people can do that.”

He played a disagreeable detective in the drama “The Law and Harry McGraw,” a spin-off of “Murder, She Wrote” that lasted a season on CBS.

In July, Wolf explained that Orbach hadn’t quit the original “Law & Order” but was moving on to the sequel. Orbach’s Briscoe will appear in several episodes of “Trial by Jury,” which NBC will start later this season.

“As Jerry will be the first to tell you, he has moved beyond the mandatory retirement age of any police force on the planet,” Wolf said then.

The actor’s cancer diagnosis had been announced this month. He is survived by his wife, Elaine, and two sons, including actor Chris Orbach.

When Orbach’s diagnosis was announced, Wolf vowed to work around the actor’s treatment.

Wolf has a long and successful record of replacing the actors on the original show.

But when the witty, down-to-earth Orbach stepped away, “Law & Order” wasn’t the same.

He brought humanity and flair to his scenes in the fast-moving crime procedural.

Wolf said it best: The actor is irreplaceable.

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