Law and Order: Special Victims Unit star Richard Belzer has died at the age of 78.
The actor started off as a comedian, but gained fame for his role as Detective John Munch, first on Homicide Life on the Streets and then on SVU. He also appeared on the original Law and Order and Trial by Jury.
In total, Belzer played Munch on 11 different shows over the course of 22 years, including the X-Files, Arrested Development, The Wire and Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt.
He died in at his home early Sunday in Bozouls in southwest France after battling a series of health issues.
‘His last words were, ‘Fuck you, motherfucker,’’ writer Bill Scheft told The Hollywood Reporter.
Richard Belzer, known for playing Det. John Munch on 11 different shows, has died at the age of 78
He played the role of Det. John Munch on 11 different shows over 22 years, including Law and Order: SVU. He is pictured here on set with Mariska Hargitay
His death was first announced by Saturday Night Live alumna Laraine Newman, who tweeted: ‘I’m so sad to hear of Richard Belzer’s passing. I loved this guy so much.
‘He was one of my first friends when I got to New York to do SNL,’ she revealed. ‘We used to go out to dinner every week at Sheepshead Bay for lobster.’
Newman said Belzer was ‘one of the funniest people ever’ and a ‘master at crowd work.’
Comedian Billy Crystal tweeted, ‘Richard Belzer was simply hilarious. A genius at handling a crowd. So sad he’s passed away.’
Marc Maron added to the outpouring of tributes, writing, ‘Richard Belzer died. He was an original. One of the greats, babe. I loved the guy. RIP.’
Belzer was born in Bridgeport, Connecticut, where he said he began his foray into comedy by trying to make his physically abusive mother laugh.
‘I had to make my mom laugh or I’d get my a** kicked,’ he told People Magazine in 1993.
But prior to making his career in Hollywood, Belzer held a number of odd jobs, including as a reporter for the Bridgeport Post and as a census taker.
He finally moved to New York City — where he was known for bringing his dog along with him everywhere he went — following his first divorce, and began his stand-up career at Manhattan comedy clubs.
By 1972, Belzer was a featured player on National Lampoon Radio Hour with costars John Belushi, Chevy Chase, Bill Murray and Gilda Radner.
Several of the skits were later released on albums, including several bits where Belzer played a pithy call-in talk show host named Dick Ballentine.
He also had small film roles and made three guest appearances on Saturday Night Love from 1975 through 1980.
Eventually, he become good friends with actor Jerry Lewis, from whom he apparently sought career advice.
Belzer has attributed his comedy career to trying to make his abusive mother laugh
Following a divorce, Belzer moved to New York City and began his stand-up career
But Belzer’s true success came on television.
He started off with minor roles in the 1990s, appearing as a news anchor on The Flash and Inspector William Henderson in several episodes of Lois & Clark and the New Adventures of Superman.
His big break came in 1993 when he starred in Homicide: Life on the Street as Det. John Munch, later reprising the role in Law and Order and Law and Order: SVU.
‘When Homicide was canceled, I was in France with my wife and she said, “Let’s open a bottle of champagne and toast. You did this character for seven years,”‘ Belzer recounted in the 2009 book Law and Order: Special Victims Unit Unofficial Companion.
‘And then I remembered that Benjamin Bratt was leaving L&O and so I called my manager and said, “Call Dick Wolf — maybe Munch can become Briscoe’s partner” because we had teamed for the crossover.
‘So he called and Dick said, “What a great idea, but I’ve already cast Jesse Martin to be the new guy,;
But Wolf was in the process of developing a spinoff series based on the New York Police Department’s Special Victims Unit, which investigates sexually-based crimes.
He thought Belzer would be perfect for the role — and he was, starring in the show for 14 seasons.
In total, Belzer played the acerbic detective for 22 consecutive seasons, exceeding the previous prime time record of 20 consecutive seasons held by James Arness — who played Marshal Matt Dillon on Gunsmoke from 1955 to 1975, and Kelsey Grammer — who played Dr. Frasier Crane on Cheers then on Frasier
That record has since been beaten by his Law and Order: SVU co-star Mariska Hargitay.
The character ultimately announced his retirement in 2014, but Munch returned a couple years later in the 17th season.
Just recently, Belzer’s character was mentioned in an episode of Law and Order: SVU, when ICE T’s character talked about his old partner, Munch.
ICE T, who plays Fin on the show, said Munch had gone back to Baltimore — where Homicide Life on the Streets took place — opened a bar and was happily married.
Belzer was last seen on the show in 2016.
His big break came as Detective John Munch in Homicide: Life on the Street
Belzer, left, played the role of Detective John Munch for 22 consecutive seasons
In his personal life, Belzer was a known conspiracy theorist, writing four different books about his beliefs. He was also a regular on Alex Jones’ show, once referring to the Boston Marathon bombing as a false flag event.
He was married three times throughout his life, and famously sued professional wrestler Hulk Hogan.
The actor had requested that the professional wrestler appear on his show in 1985, just days before the inaugural WrestleMania.
When he asked Hogan to show him one of his signature moves, Hogan put Belzer in a chin lock, which caused him to pass out. Then when Hogan finally released him. Belzer hit his head on the floor, sustaining a laceration to the scalp that required a brief hospitalization.
He sued Hogan for $5million, and they settled out of court.
Belzer has previously also survived testicular cancer
He retired from acting in 2016, and has been living in the South of France for the past few years.
The actor was predeceased by his mother in 1964, his father in 1966, and his brother, Leonard, who died by suicide in 2014.