S. Epatha Merkerson, who portrays the beloved Lieutenant Anita Van Buren on Law & Order, told Entertainment Weekly that she will be leaving the show after this season, "It’s a graceful way to go. It’s the end of my contract this year, and the storyline has been so perfect. I’ve given it my best for 16 years. It’s time to move on. I’m doing other things and this will be a great way to leave what has been an extraordinary gig."

It's unclear what the fate of Van Buren, who has been dealing with cervical cancer, will be (they are only getting scripts for the final episodes now). Merkerson said she didn't have a preference, "Van Buren is a hell of a character. How ever they decide to take her out it’ll be worthy of the character. Either way it’ll be great for me because I get to act it. [Laughs]" She says she's looking forward to other opportunities—she's currently producing a documentary and, in recent years, won awards for her performance in the TV movie Lackawanna Blues and raves for the play Come Back, Little Sheba.

When asked about her favorite memory, Merkerson said, "That’s a hard one. I loved singing three-part harmony with Jerry [Orbach] and Jesse [Martin]. Jerry and Jesse knew every song that was ever recorded from Broadway. The thing that I hold dear is that even with everyone coming and going, I still keep in touch with most everyone. They’re still very much a part of my life, and I don’t think that will change." A very special memory for us is when we visited the set of Law & Order in March 2004: Right before they filmed a scene, Merkerson, Martin and Orbach were happily singing, and their joy seemed to pump up the crew.

Merkerson has been the show's longest-running full cast member (she's followed by Sam Waterston), but did you know she appeared in an episode during the show's first season as the mother of two victims? And another fun fact: Leslie Hendrix, who plays M.E. Rodgers has been on the show since 1992!