Law & Order: SVU Star Richard Belzer Dead at 78

Richard Belzer, a comedian and actor known for roles on shows such as Law & Order: SVU, has passed away. Learn more about his life and career.

By Corinne Heller Feb 19, 2023 9:02 PMTags
Watch: Law & Order: SVU Star Richard Belzer Dead at 78

Fan-favorite actor and comedian Richard Belzer has passed away.

The star, best known for playing detective John Munch on NBC shows Homicide: Life on the Street and Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, died Feb. 19 at age 78. Belzer passed away at his home in Bozouls in southwest France, writer Bill Scheft, a longtime friend of the actor, told The Hollywood Reporter.

"He had lots of health issues," Scheft said of the actor, "and his last words were, 'F--k you, motherf--ker.'"

NBC and Universal Television also issued a statement about Belzer's death. "Anyone who ever had the pleasure of watching Richard Belzer portray Det. John Munch—whether on Homicide or Law & Order: SVU—over four decades will never forget how much he inhabited that beloved character to make it his own," it read. "His professionalism, talents and dedication to the craft made him a pillar in the industry, but it was his humor, compassion and loving heart that made him family."

The statement continued, "Our condolences go out to his loved ones as we join them in mourning his loss, but also in celebrating his memory."

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Belzer is survived by his third wife, actress Harlee McBride, and stepdaughters Jessica and Bree.

Belzer was born in 1944 in Bridgeport, Connecticut and began his entertainment career as a stand-up comedian in New York City. He was the warm-up comic on the first season of Saturday Night Live and took part in the Channel One comedy group that parodied TV shows and inspired the 1974 film The Groove Tube, which marked the actor's onscreen debut.

Belzer also made appearances in SNL sketches, and starred in other TV shows such as The Flash, as well as films such as Night Shift and Scarface, before making his debut as Munch on Homicide: Life on the Street in 1993.

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He played the role for all seven seasons of the series, as well as in its 2000 TV film, a full 15 seasons of Law & Order: SVU and episodes of eight other shows—episodes of Law & OrderLaw & Order: Trial by JuryThe X-FilesThe Wire, UPN's The Beat30 RockUnbreakable Kimmy Schmidt and Arrested Development.

In 1985, he hosted his own talk show, Hot Properties. On one episode, he challenged wrestling legend Hulk Hogan to demonstrate one of his signature wrestling moves on him. He obliged, putting Belzer in front chin lock, causing him to pass out and hit his head on the floor. Belzer sued Hogan, and the pair reached a financial settlement, which the actor used for a down payment on his house in France, The Hollywood Reporter said.

In addition to his comedy and acting career, Belzer was also the author of four conspiracy theory books, including UFOs, JFK, and Elvis: Conspiracies You Don't Have to Be Crazy to Believe and Hit List: An In-Depth Investigation into the Mysterious Deaths of Witnesses to the JFK Assassination.

Many of Belzer's colleagues paid tribute to the star following news of his passing.

Mariska Hargitay wrote on her Instagram, "Goodbye my dear, dear friend. I will miss you, your unique light, and your singular take on this strange world. I feel blessed to have known you and adored you and worked with you, side by side, for so many years. How lucky the angels are to have you. I can hear them laughing already. I love you so very much, now and forever."

Comedian and actor Marc Maron tweeted, "Richard Belzer died. He was an original. One of the greats, babe. I loved the guy. RIP"

Laraine Newman, an original Saturday Night Live cast member, wrote, "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. 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."

Meanwhile, former Law & Order: SVU showrunner Warren Light tweeted, "Richard Belzer was the first actor to welcome me when I started at SVU. 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..."

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