Richard Belzer, the comedian and actor best known for his role as Detective John Munch in the “Law & Order” series, has died at the age of 78, Bill Scheft, a longtime family friend, confirmed on Sunday to CBS News.
Scheft said Belzer died surrounded by his family in Beaulieu-sur-Mer in southern France.
Mariska Hargitay, left, as Sgt. Olivia Benson and Richard Belzer as Special Counsel John Munch in an episode of Law & Order: Special Victims Unit. Michael Parmelee/NBCU Photo Bank/NBCUniversal via Getty Images
A stand-up comedian with a loyal following, Belzer began his acting career in the 1974 film The Groove Tube. He was also featured in early episodes of Saturday Night Live.
But Belzer’s most memorable role was Detective John Munch, whom he played on Homicide: Life on the Street from 1993 to 1999. Belzer continued the role on the Law & Order series, appearing in the first episode of the series in 1993. “Law & Order: Special Victims Unit” debuted in 1999, with Belzer’s starring role lasting through 2016 — a whopping 326 episodes, according to IMDb.
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In his sharp, dark suits and glasses, Belzer cut an imposing but approachable figure, transforming the often cynical but dedicated detective into a TV icon. The role earned him a 2008 People’s Choice Award for Favorite Scene-Stealing Star.
“I loved this guy so much,” wrote comedian and SNL original actress Laraine Newman on Twitter. “One of the funniest people ever.”
I am so saddened by the death of Richard Belzer. I loved this guy so much. He was one of my first friends when I came to New York to do SNL. We used to go to Sheepshead Bay for dinner every week for lobster. One of the funniest people ever. A master of crowd work. RIP dearest. pic.twitter.com/u23co0JPA2
— Laraine Newman (@larainenewman) February 19, 2023
The actor and comedian Heinrich Winkler Quote Newman tweeted to also commemorate Belzer. “Rest in Peace Richard”, Winkler wrote.
Belzer’s former SVU co-star Mariska Hargitay wrote on Instagram: “Goodbye my dear dear friend. I will miss you, your unique light and perspective on this strange world.”
“How lucky the angels are to have you. I can already hear her laughing,” added the actress.
Wolf Entertainment, the production company of Dick Wolf, who produced the entire Law & Order franchise, also released a statement from Wolf himself.
“Richard Belzer’s Detective John Munch is one of television’s most iconic figures,” Wolf wrote.
“Richard brought humor and joy to all of our lives, was a full professional and we will all miss him dearly,” added Wolf.
Belzer’s other work includes the dramedy film Santorini Blue, Scarface and Man on the Moon, a biographical film about the late comedian Andy Kaufman.
Belzer is survived by his wife, actress Harlee McBride, and stepdaughters Jessica and Bree.