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What's Happened to Dann Florek's Character Donald Cragen on Law & Order and SVU?

Where would the franchise be without its original commanding officer (who has appeared on three shows)?

By Jessica White

In the Law & Order franchise, there are but a few characters who have contributed to the show's success since its inception, but Dann Florek's Captain Donald Cragen is one.

How to Watch

Watch the Season 26 premiere of Law & Order: Special Victims Unit Thursday, October 3 at 9/8c on NBC.

Having started on Law & Order, appeared in the Law & Order TV movie, moved to Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, and made guest appearances on Law & Order: Organized Crime, Florek has left a mark on the franchise that's impossible to erase.

RELATED: Dann Florek's Final Scenes as Cragen Feature an Emotional Heart-to-Heart with Benson

Whether he's brainstorming with Lennie Briscoe (Jerry Orbach) or chastising Olivia Benson (Mariska Hargitay) and Elliot Stabler (Christopher Meloni), Cragen's expert guidance and gravitas has inspired many Law & Order rewatches.

Captain Donald Cragen folds his arms in a suit in Law & Order: Special Victims Unit Season 1.

Who was Donald Cragen on Law & Order and SVU?

Captain Donald Cragen was a commanding officer for the 27th Precinct's Homicide Unit (Law & Order Seasons 1-3), the Anti-Corruption Task Force (Law & Order Season 5 and Exiled: A Law & Order Movie), and the Manhattan Special Victims Unit (SVU). To date, the character has appeared in 381 episodes across the franchise.

Cragen was a Green Beret during the Vietnam War and, by his first appearance, a recovering alcoholic. He said in Season 1, Episode 1 ("Prescription for Death") of Law & Order that he got sober after an incident in the 80s during which he pulled a gun on a cab driver. Years later — in SVU Season 1, Episode 22 ("Slaves") — he admitted that the was often tempted him to drink, but he maintained his sobriety during his time on each series.

He was, however, known to keep alcohol in his office to serve his detectives after particularly grueling days, as first seen in SVU Season 1, Episode 2 ("A Single Life").

Cragen's addiction issues led him to be empathetic toward those with similar ailments, like SVU's Amanda Rollins (Kelli Giddish). When she was in the throes of her gambling addiction in Season 13, Cragen suggested a rehab instead of tossing her termination papers.

Cragen was promoted to to captain of the 27th's Precinct's Homicide Unit in 1989 — the year before the series started — and left in 1993 (after Season 3). Viewers learned he was heading up the Anti-Corruption Task Force in Season 5, Episode 20 ("Bad Faith"), which aired in 1995, and saw more of him in the Law & Order television movie in 1998.

He joined the SVU as its commanding officer Season 1, Episode 1 ("Payback"), which aired in 1999. That's when he met two of his most elite detectives, Benson and Stabler.

Cragen ultimately retired from the NYPD Season 15, Episode 11 ("Amaro's One-Eighty"), which aired in 2014.

Donald Cragen appears in a scene from Law & Order.

When was Donald Cragen first on Law & Order?

Cragen was a member of the debut cast of Law & Order.

He was the captain of the 27th Precinct's Homicide Unit in the series premiere episode ("Prescription for Death" ).

RELATED: Dann Florek Tears Up Talking About Mariska Hargitay

When he'd arrived at the Homicide Unit, Cragen was partnered up with Senior Detective Sergeant Max Greevey (George Dzundza). He later partnered with Mike Logan (Chris Noth), Phil Cerreta (Paul Sorvino), and Lennie Briscoe on the squad.

He was transferred to the Anti-Corruption Task Force after Season 3, appearing on Law & Order in Season 5, Episode 20 ("Bad Faith") in that role.

Captain Donald Cragen wears suspender in Law & Order: Special Victims Unit Season 1.

Why did Donald Cragen never get promoted higher than captain in 25 years?

Cragen made too many enemies in Season 1 of Law & Order — which was only his second year as captain — to advance further up the ranks of the NYPD.

In Season 1, Episode 22 ("The Blue Wall"), Cragen became the top suspect in a money laundering scheme within the department, but was ultimately was devastated to learn that his longtime mentor, Chief of Operations Peter O'Farrell (Robert Lansing), was the culprit.

After wearing a wire and setting up a conversation with his former friend, Cragen exposed O'Farrell's misdeeds and cleared his own name.

Cragen was thus exonerated, but O'Farrell had a lot of friends at the top of the food chain who then considered Cragen an enemy. As a result of the NYPD's ruthless bureaucracy, Cragen was never promoted above the rank of Captain.

Captain Donald Cragen folds his arms in Law & Order: Special Victims Unit Episode 113.

What happened to Donald Cragen's wife Marge on Law & Order?

At the beginning of Law & Order, Cragen had long been married to a flight attendant named Marge (Ellen Tobie), who made a brief appearance in Season 1, Episode 22 ("The Blue Wall")​​​​​​.

In SVU Season 1, Episode 2 ("A Single Life), Cragen told Benson that his wife had passed away in a plane crash during a "turnaround" flight to Orlando, Florida. He still lived in their home in Bensonhurst — a neighborhood in southwest Brooklyn.

Captain Donald Cragen and A.D.A. Abbie Carmichael speak at a desk in Law & Order: Special Victims Unit Episode 106.

When did Donald Cragen join SVU?

Cragen first appeared as captain of the Manhattan SVU in the Law & Order: SVU series premiere ("Payback") in 1999.

He made guest appearances on the original Law & Order as the SVU captain in Season 10, Episode 14 ("Entitled") and Season 15, Episode 11 "(Fixed").

Detective Elliot Stabler, Detective Olivia Benson, and Captain Donald Cragen stand outside in Law & Order: Special Victims Unit Episode 108.

Why was Donald Cragen arrested on SVU?

In the Season 13 finale ("Rhodium Nights") Cragen was arrested after he was falsely accused of killing a sex worker.

RELATED: Why Dann Florek's House Went Viral for This Note Hidden in the Fireplace

Benson helped prove that was framed by a sex trafficker whom the SVU previously investigated and he was exonerated in Season 14, Episode 2 ("Above Suspicion").


Who was Donald Cragen's girlfriend, Eileen Switzer?

Cragen began dating a woman named Eileen Switzer (Mel Harris), who was introduced in Season 15, Episode 9 ("Rapists Anonymous").

When it came time to announce his retirement later that season, the happy couple had planned a six-month cruise together.


When did Donald Cragen leave SVU and the NYPD?

Cragen retired from the Manhattan SVU in Season 15, Episode 11 ( "Amaro's One-Eighty"), which aired in 2014.

At the top of the episode, Cragen promoted Benson to Sergeant from Detective Second Grade. Then, after a shooting between an SVU officer and an unarmed teenager led to mayhem, he expertly navigated the PR pandemonium.

After wrapping up the case, Cragen realized he might be paid less if he stayed at the SVU than if he left, and opted to utilize his unused PTO and retire early (and go on that cruise with his girlfriend, Eileen).

RELATED: Why Dann Florek's Captain Cragen Left SVU

"I'm proud of my time here, and I'm honored and grateful to have worked with the finest unit of detectives I've ever known," Cragen told the squad, earning him a heartfelt round of applause. He named Benson as the commanding officer of the Manhattan SVU, telling the squad, "Now, it's not easy going from player to coach, so don't bust her chops."

In an intimate heart-to-heart with the newly-instated sergeant, Cragen encouraged Benson to take care of herself as she took on the mythic post and grabbed the keys to the office. "Oh, and Olivia," Cragen added before heading out the door. "Do something with the place, will ya'?"

Detective John Munch Detective Fin Tutuola. and Captain Cragen on Law And Order Svu Episode 1505

Has Donald Cragen appeared on any Law & Order show since his retirement?


Cragen's departure from SVU was an emotional farewell, but it wasn't like he moved to a faraway country without any promise of contact (unlike Stabler in Season 12).

RELATED: Donald Cragen Just Made a Shocking Return to Law & Order — With a Stabler Warning

Benson and Rollins reached out to Cragen for help on a case in Season 16, Episode 21 ("Perverted Justice"). He helped the SVU squad again in Season 23 (in honor of the series' 500th episode )after a true crime podcaster convinced the department to reopen the case of a wrongfully-incarcerated alleged murderer.

He also reunited with Stabler several times on Law & Order: Organized Crime. Cragen first appeared in Season 2, Episode 17 ("Can't Knock the Hustle") when Stabler had questions about his father's questionable behavior on the force.

He then attended an NYPD awards ceremony in OC Season 2, Episode 22 ("Friend or Foe") to see Stabler accept the Combat Cross, an award his father also received decades prior.

Cragen also made two guest appearances in Season 4 of OC — Episode 7 ("Original Sin") and Episode 8 ("Sins of Our Fathers") — when Stabler was being investigated by the Internal Affairs Bureau after a shooting.

Donald Cragen in a scene from Law & Order: Organized Crime Season 4 Episode 8.

Watch Law & Order: Special Victims Unit on NBC and Peacock.