Richard Belzer, who began his career as a comedian and morphed into his iconic role of police detective John Munch first in Homicide: Life on the Street and then in Law & Order: SVU, among other TV dramas, died today. He was 78. There are no specifics at press time on the cause of his death.
“I’m so sad to hear of Richard Belzer’s passing,” tweeted original Saturday Night Live cast member Laraine Newman. “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.”
Born August 4, 1944 in Bridgeport, Connecticut, Richard Belzer began his career as a stand-up comedian in various clubs in New York City. He participated in the Channel One comedy group that satirized television and became the basis for the cult 1974 movie The Groove Tube, which he appeared in, and he was the audience warm-up comedian in the early seasons of Saturday Night Live. He made three appearances on the late night variety show.
Following small roles in films like Fame (1980), Author! Author! (1982) and Scarface (1983), Belzer made the rounds as a guest star in various TV series including Moonlighting, Miami Vice, and Tattingers. He had a recurring role in the original The Flash in 1991 and in Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman before debuting as John Munch in Homicide: Life on the Street in 1993. Following Homicide, he immediately segued as John Munch in Law & Order: SVU, where he appeared through 2013. He also played the role as a guest star in dramas The X-Files, The Beat, Law & Order: Trial By Jury and The Wire; and comedies Arrested Development, 30 Rock, and The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt.
His last appearance as John Munch was in a guest shot on Law & Order: SVU in 2016.
Belzer was also a published author, penning four books discussing his belief of conspiracies to assassinate President John F. Kennedy. He retired from acting in 2016 and was married, and divorced, twice.