Richard Belzer Dies: ‘Law & Order: SVU’ & ‘Homicide: Life on the Street’ Star Was 78
The Law & Order universe lost one of its brightest stars: Richard Belzer, who played John Munch on Homicide: Life on the Street, Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, and many other shows, has reportedly died at age 78.
Belzer died on Sunday, February 19 in his Bozouls home in the southwest of France, due to undisclosed health issues. Writer Bill Scheft, longtime friend of the actor, told The Hollywood Reporter, “He had lots of health issues, and his last words were, ‘F**k you, motherf***er.’”
Comedian and podcast host Marc Maron (a friend of Belzer’s) was one of the celebrities grieving for Belzer on Twitter on Sunday. “Richard Belzer died,” Maron tweeted. “He was an original. One of the greats, babe. I loved the guy. RIP.”
Former SVU showrunner Warren Leight also tweeted about the star’s reported passing.
“Richard Belzer was the first actor to welcome me when I started at SVU,” he tweeted on Sunday. “Open, warm, acerbic, whip smart, surprisingly kind. I loved writing for Munch, and I loved being with Belz. We sensed this would be his parting scene. Godspeed, Belz…”
Leight shared a “Lessons With Munch” video from 2016 as part of his tribute. It features Belzer and SVU star Mariska Hargitay. Check it out below.
Belzer got his start in showbiz as a stand-up comedian, even serving as the inaugural warm-up act for Saturday Night Live. Original SNL cast member Laraine Newman also mourned his death on Sunday.
“I’m so sad to hear of Richard Belzer’s passing. I loved this guy so much,” she tweeted. “He was one of my first friends when I got to New York to do SNL. We used to go out to dinner every week at Sheepshead Bay for lobster. One of the funniest people ever. A master at crowd work. RIP, dearest.”
The actor started playing John Munch in 1993 on the NBC police procedural Homicide: Life on the Street, and he brought the detective character over to Law & Order: SVU when that NBC show debuted in 1999 and appearing in more than 300 episodes of the series.
He also made appearances as the character on two other Law & Order shows — the original series and the NBC spinoff Law & Order: Trial by Jury — and on the TV shows The X-Files, The Beat, Arrested Development, The Wire, 30 Rock, Jimmy Kimmel Live!, and Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt.
Belzer bowed out of SVU in October 2013, returning in March 2014 for a guest-star role. Munch has appeared in more TV shows than any other fictional character and is one of the most famous TV detectives ever created for the small screen. In total, Munch was on TV for 22 seasons, longer than Gunsmoke‘s Marshall Matt Dillon (James Arness, 20 seasons) and Cheers and Frasier‘s Frasier Crane (Kelsey Grammer, 20 seasons).
Belzer is survived by his wife, Homicide: Life on the Street actress Harlee McBride.