When I was younger, I was really proud of my Adam Schiff imitation. I would sigh with resignation and then say, in my best weary, old man voice, “This case has got loser written all over it. Take the deal, Jack. Take the deal.”
Of course, I later discovered that every fan of Law & Order could do a perfect Adam Schiff impersonation. Even in the 1990s, Law & Order was known for its high cast turnover but, for the first ten seasons, Steven Hill’s Adam Schiff would always be the show’s constant. It didn’t matter if the main prosecutor was played by Michael Moriarty or Sam Waterston or if the senior detective was Jerry Orbach or (God help us) George Dzundza. We always knew that the Adam Schiff would be the district attorney and that, 40 minutes into the show, he would order either Stone or McCoy to “take the deal.”
Steven Hill played many roles before he was cast as Adam Schiff. He was even the original lead on Mission Impossible, until he left the role because the show’s producers were not prepared to accommodate his adherence to the Sabbath. After leaving Mission Impossible, he did not act for ten years and when he returned, he made a career out of playing no-nonsense authority figures.
But, for people my age, Steven Hill will always be Adam Schiff. Hill brought gravitas to every line he spoke and, as New York’s veteran district attorney, Hill came to represent the type of unimpeachable integrity that we all wished we could see in real-life public officials. For many of us, Steven Hill was Law & Order and the show never recovered after he retired from the role.
Steven Hill died earlier today, at the age of 94. Thanks for the memories, Mr. Hill. Thank you for bringing Adam Schiff and so many other characters to life.