Law & Order: The 10 Most Memorable Cast Departures

Tonight’s very special episode of Law & Order: Los Angeles promises an event unseen in the last 20 years of the franchise. Avid L&O; fans—and those who have read any of the news stories about LOLA’s shake-ups—know this means the death of a detective. It’s true that few on-screen deaths have touched the Law & Order universe, but that doesn’t mean characters don’t come and go. Here are the 10 cast departures that are still on my mind.

10. Det. Monique Jeffries (Michelle Hurd)
Last episode: “Runaway” (Law & Order: SVU)

After nearly dying in an explosion, Jeffries became something of a loose cannon. When a department psychiatrist suggested she needed treatment, Captain Cragen decided to put Jeffries on desk duty. Frustrated with her inactive role, she dropped her gun and badge on Cragen’s desk and left SVU for good.


9. Sgt. Max Greevey (George Dzundza)
Last episode: “Confession” (Law & Order)

This is the big death the promos for Law & Order: Los Angeles keep alluding to. And yes, it was pretty surprising that Greevey was shot in his home. But given that he was only a detective for the show’s inaugural season, no one had much time to get attached. Besides, Dzundza declined to appear in the episode—we got a stunt double instead.


8. Det. Ed Green (Jesse L. Martin)
Last episode: “Burn Card” (Law & Order)

Green was one of only a few detectives to survive a shooting, but his problems weren’t over when he returned. In “Burn Card,” Green was accused of shooting a hustler from his past and almost lost his job. Even though all of the charges were dropped by the end of the episode, Green decided to leave.


7. Det. Chester Lake (Adam Beach)
Last episode: “Cold” (Law & Order: SVU)

At the end of Season 9, Lake joined a group of people solving cold cases—strange business for a working detective. In “Cold,” he shot an officer suspected of raping young girls, but it was ruled self-defense. At the end of the episode, however, he was caught red-handed standing over the dead body of another corrupt cop.


6. ADA Serena Southerlyn (Elisabeth Rohm)
Last episode: “Ain’t No Love” (Law & Order)

There’s nothing all that spectacular about the way Southerlyn was let go—DA Arthur Branch felt that she was too emotionally invested in the defendants, and that it was clouding her judgment. The real shocker came when Southerlyn asked, “Is this because I’m a lesbian?” News to us.


5. Det. Mike Logan (Chris Noth)
Last episode: “Pride” (Law & Order, before his return in the TV movie Exiled: A Law & Order Movie and as a regular on Law & Order: Criminal Intent)

In a case inspired by the shooting of Harvey Milk and San Francisco mayor George Moscone, a homophobic murderer was acquitted. Logan had no trouble showing his outrage, publicly punching the now-free defendant. As punishment, he was transferred to the Staten Island Domestic Disputes Squad.


4. ADA Alexandra Borgia (Annie Parisse)
Last episode: “Invaders” (Law & Order)

In the middle of an intense investigation, Borgia disappeared and was later found in the trunk of an abandoned car—bound, beaten, and dead from choking on her own vomit. Surely the most gruesome of all Law & Order departures, Borgia’s death was rendered slightly less impactful by her brief stint on the show.


3. Executive ADA Ben Stone (Michael Moriarty)
Last episode: “Old Friends” (Law & Order)

Stone resigned of his own volition, but the reasons for his exit were rough. He all but forced an unwilling witness to testify in a case against the Russian mob. As the woman was being transported to witness protection, she was shot and killed. Finding it impossible to live with his guilt, Stone left the DA’s office.

2. ADA Alex Cabot
Last episode: “Loss,” (Law & Order: SVU, before her return as a regular on "Conviction," as a guest on SVU, and again as a recurring character on SVU)

Well, they sure jerked the audience around with this one. Cabot received death threats while prosecuting a rapist and was eventually forced to drop the charges. She was later shot in a drive-by and pronounced dead. But at the episode’s end, it was revealed Cabot’s death was faked and that she would be entering witness protection. Phew.


1. ADA Claire Kincaid
Last episode: “Aftershock” (Law & Order)

“Aftershock” was a mistake of an episode, focusing on the characters' personal lives instead of on a case. But the ending was a real shocker. Kincaid had to pick up a drunk Lennie Briscoe from a bar—only to get hit by a drunk driver. Briscoe exited the car unharmed, but found Kincaid dead in the driver’s seat. Lieutenant Van Buren’s voiceover made this one of Law & Order’s most haunting moments.

Law & Order: Los Angeles returns to kill off a detective tonight at 9pm on NBC. Which Law & Order cast departures do YOU remember most?

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I think Jerry Orbach's departure at the end of season 14 (which is not listed here) was the most memorable, because just a mere seven months later, Orbach would be dead from prostate cancer at age 69.
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Southerlyn's admission wasn't that shocking.

In retrospect, go back and watch some of her old episodes. Her character was a strong supporter of gay rights and took some of her bosses' comments a bit strongly. then again that didn't prove it since even a straight person might take strong offense To insensitive comments

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What bothers me the most is character 180°…
S. Epatha's original character was a mother who left her two sons with their grandmother while she worked as a cleaning lady for office buildings. Her youngest son is murdered in a drive by shooting.
Next appearance she is a detective.
ADA Casey was originally on the show as one of three women who raped a male stripper. She testified against her codefendant (an attorney) and accepted a plea and was sent to prison. She returns as an ADA.
A criminal who is mixed up in the mob, kills someone, is sent to prison and returns in later episodes as a detective.
These are just a few of the return to show actors that have been imprisoned and come back as main characters in legal/police positions.
I don't understand are there not enough out of work actors for the show to hire new people for ADA's, Lieutenants, detectives and other key roles?
There have also been some changes that work (somewhat).
The judge that Casey lied in her court was in an episode as a defence attorney and then became a fixed judge on the show. I don't however think the defence after ey and the judge had the same character name so in fact this was another show blunder.
My recommendation to Law & Order SVU (as they are the only show currently on) hire some new actors/actresses. Give established as well as non-established actors a chance.
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Steven Hill who played D.A. Adam Schiff for ten years left and it was simply explained he left to work with Simon Wiesenthal. While we didn't get to see him go, we can't help but miss him. And how about the departure of Abbie Carmichael who was played by Angie Harmon, She was my favorite A.D.A. But unlike others like Jaime who left to take care of her child, Serena who was fired, and Robinette who left to become a defender, Abbie was the one who was moving up to the U.S. Attorney. There's also Benjamin Bratt's whose character Rey Curtis left to take care of his ailing wife. When he made an appearance in the show's lat season, I was hoping he would return to the show. For all we know he could have been S. Epatha Merkenson's character's replacement. And there's Jerry Orbach's Lennie Briscoe. I don''t mind saying that I thought that Briscoe probably should have left after 10 years. But when he left, I still felt sad.
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I don't disagree with you as far as when Jerry Orbach departed after 12 years, but the reason for retiring the Lennie Briscoe character is because by 2004, Orbach was battling prostate cancer and succumbed to the disease at age 69 on December 28 of that year. Another one whose departure left a lot of fans stunned was the departure of Arthur Branch, played by former U.S. Senator Fred Thompson, who, early in 2007, announced his candidacy for President the following year (2008); sadly, just like Orbach, Thompson is also deceased, succumbing to Hodgkin's lymphoma in November of last year at age 73.
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I hated when they took Chris Noth off Criminal Intent. And then when they took off Vincent D'Onofrio and Katherine Erbe. That was horrible too. But It is never explained as to what ever happened to Nichols, Stevens and Callas.



I was very disappointed by Diane Neal's departure from the show. She was one of my favorite ADAs. I liked Jesse Martin as Green. One of the only cops left from older seasons.



I know I'm gonna piss off SVU fans, but Detective Stabler's departure didn't really shock or disappoint me too much. It was why he was leaving that I didn't like. I'd always think it would've been an Internal Affairs investigation or a interdepartmental psychological evaluation that woulda led to his departure. But I didn;t like that it was after shooting a rape victim. But if that didn't make him get fired or WANT to leave, than all authenticity would have been lost for me.
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Paul Sorvino...His Departure Hurt !!
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I think they didn't include Lennie because the only "exit" we really saw wasn't handled as any kind of a big deal. Initially, Orbach decided not to do the mothership as a regular any longer, but was going to make appearance on the "Trial by Jury" spin-off (which totally sank.) So, on Lennie's last episode, he just told people he was leaving, mentioned he'd be picking up a few cases here-and-there as a part time inspector for the DA's office and said goodbye. Nothing really shocking or memorable to it other than just how long Lennie had been a part of the show.

Unfortunately, Orbach died shortly after TBJ started filming. Now, WHY his death never really got mentioned on ANY of the shows, I'm not sure - I think it was mentioned once in passing on the mothership, but otherwise I don't think it was acknowledged at all. But on TBJ, since the setup for the character was that he was only going to be picking up cases "here and there" they just brought in another actor to be the inspector and played it as if there just weren't any other cases Lennie worked on that we got to "look in" on. As far as I'm concerned, they handled Jerry Orbach's passing in a completely INEXCUSIBLE and near CRIMINAL manner. Lennie deserved to go out with a really special episode, something that could bring together some of the detectives and ADAs he's worked with over the years together or something, but instead it was just like he sort of floated out of our lives.
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I think ti was mentioned on TBJ, but haven't gotten to the episode yet. I saw it in a DVD extra, they were talking about how Lennie was sick but never complained, much like Orbach while acting in real life. Then he was mentioned when Green shot a bookie in season 18. Lennie's death was how he got back into gambling. Then Logan mentioned to a girl in a bar in season 6 of CI how his partner Lennie died and then he had a dream of Lennie telling Mike he's not dead. They mentioned Greevy on SVU but not Briscoe.
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Cabot was my fav ADA in the franchise, and it was tricky having her leave & then come back much later. I didn't see Claire's death, though.
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Claire's exit was the hardest. I hated to see Jerry Orbach go, then was so upset when I heard he was sick. I hated to see Jesse L. Martin go, too.

It's such a testament to LAW &ORDER that the cast could change as many times as it did and still keep that quality going.

Stopping the original L&O was a big mistake! SVU is great, but now we've lost Criminal Intent so SVU is all we have. I don't even count L&O:LA. Without that New York environment it's a pale imitation. I only watched it because of Skeet Ulrich, and now I'm totally released from it!

I'm watching L&O:UK.The episodes are redone original L&O ones. I enjoy it.

I truly mourn losing the REAL LAW & ORDER.
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They got it right Kincaid's death was the most shocking.
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Actually Claire Kincaid went to pick up Jack McCoy but he had left already. She gave Lennie a ride home and then the accident happened. Did I remember that correctly? I was shocked by Claire's death.
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I think they didn't mentionned Lennie Briscoe due to the fact the actor really died (without departure from the show or I make a mistake ? Possible as I have not seen yet all the entire 20 seasons episodes !). But for sure many people want to put him 1st as he made the show (or entire licence) what it is/was, or second one after Claire Kincaid.



In this article they just forgot to include 1 show "Law & Order: Criminal Intent"... not mentionning Ross/Goren/Erbe is a big mistake ;)
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No mistake here, detective goren is a cheap immitation of columbo and is nothing more than an embarrassment to the entire franchise. what a loser you are even thinking that criminal intent even belongs in the same category as the others. Shame on you for your bad taste and stupidity!
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Rude much?
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Lennie Briscoe
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I disagree that "Aftershock" was a "mistake of an episode," nor do I think the impact of Borgia's death was lessened by her character's not being on the show that long. For me, the most memorable departures were Stone, Cresetta (sp?), Kincaid, and Logan.
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Cerretta (played by Paul Sorvino) is spelled "C-e-r-e-t-t-a.
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I love Jill Hennessy. Claire's death was completely shocking for me.
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For me, the most difficult departure on this list was that of Stephanie March from her role of ADA Alexaandra Cabot in "Law and Order: SVU". Also, Lenny Briscoe, played by Jerry Orbach, from the original show was a tough one as well.
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What about Goren?! or Ross?!
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goren? seriously? who cares??? he was an embarrassment to the franchise! columbo wanna-be.
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Another chiller...Jamie Ross testifying at McCoy's disciplinary hearing in "Monster", then leaving the DA's office without a word exchanged before McCoy being called in.
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Cannot believe Phil Ceretta's departure in Season 3 of L & O did not make this list. Shot going undercover, then decides to retire. Definitely more memorable than Greevey getting shot
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Ceretta didn't retire he took an administrative position at another precinct.
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Ceretta didn't retire, he just took a desk job at another precinct. Sorvino didn't like to shoot durring the winter because it affected his voice and he also did opera so that's a big thing. Also Noth and Sorvino were competitive.
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Um, Jerry Orbach? Det. Briscoe? "Trial by Jury"?
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How can you mention a character as insignificant as "Jefferies" who was around for all of one and a half seasons and not mention Jerry Orbach's "Briscoe" who was on from 1991-2004? I'm sure if you asked most L&O fans they will tell you Briscoe was the best.. "Aftershock" was an excellent episode where we got the rare opportunity to see a different side of these characters, such as McCoy opening up in the bar about his dad. As for "Max Greevey" he wasn't actually shot in his home, he was shot out in front kneeling on the sidewalk, with his wife watching from the window, while she was on the phone with Logan, it as another excellent episode, and Greevey's death definitely had a huge impact. Just because he was only on for the first season, doesn't make his death inconsequential. He was a great character.
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Jerry Orbach didn't start playing Lennie Briscoe until episode 8 of season 3.
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Yep, I'm a dope. I watched it from the beginning and of course it was George Dzunda in the first season and then came Paul Sorvino. I don't know what I was thinking.
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It doens't matter if Jeffries character was insignificant what matters was how she left. Kim Greylek was there one moment in an episode and 10 minutes in she was gone and Alex Cabot was back.
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I remember all these cast departures but the one that most stunned me was Jilly Hennessey's exit. I really liked her character and it was one of the more shocking exits. With regard to what is going to occur on Law & Order: LA, I am not happy with how they are advertising it. "For the first time in 20 years..." Meh. The "death" is part of the cast shake-up to try to get the show working and not wind up on the cancellation list. On a side note, the Law & Order: CI exits were mentioned. I want to know how the return of D'Onofrio and Erbe will be explained away. Given how both exited the show they better come up with a heck of an explanation as to why they are returning. Also, is Saffron Burrows going to be returning with the Law & Order: CI cast shake-up? Her character had grown on me.
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Agree with you about most of these- except "Aftershock" wasn't a mistake, it was a classic. And what about Vincent D'Onofrio / Kathryn Erbe's exit from Law & Order: Criminal Intent?
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Love this article. About time someone show a little respect to this franchise. I am very looking forward to the reboot of Los Angeles and especially the addition of Alana De La Garza. you got me psyched.
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You forgot Lennie Briscoe, Phil Cerreta, Ray Curtis, Donald Cragen, Tony Profaci (the one who was found to be working for the mob), Paul Robinette and others
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I'm not sure if they wanted to count the movie, as for Robinette and Cragen, well the thing is NBC was forcing to cancel the show unless if Wolf fired two males and hired two females. Hence Lt. Van Buren and ADA Kincaid. As a fan i think that cast change is a huge part of the history of the franchise, but storywise, it wasn't too significant. THere wasn't anything really special in the plot to say. NBC just gave into feminists.
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No mention of Lenny Briscoe's leaving L&0 quietly, arguably the most popular detective in the entire series? No murder/death...just retirement the way any cop would want.
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Christine Lahti's alcoholism causing her job, then her brutal murder in Law & Order: SVU
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Nah, that wasn't really a big deal. And her alcoholism was irrelevant to her death anyways. She was killed because of a serial killer, not because she had too much gin and tonic.
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you forgot one
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