Richard Belzer, comedian-turned-iconic TV cop on ‘Law & Order: SVU,’ dies at 78

Richard Belzer, the comedian and actor best known for his role as Detective John Munch in the ‘Law & Order’ franchise, has died at age 78, longtime family friend Bill Scheft confirmed to CBS News on Sunday. .

Scheft said Belzer died surrounded by his family in Beaulieu-sur-Mer, in southern France.

Mariska Hargitay and Richard Belzer on
Mariska Hargitay, left, as Sgt. Olivia Benson and Richard Belzer as Special Investigator John Munch in an episode of “Law & Order: Special Victims Unit”.

Michael Parmelee/NBCU Photo Bank/NBCUniversal via Getty Images

Belzer, a stand-up comedian with a devoted following, made his acting debut 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, which he played on “Homicide: Life on the Street” from 1993 to 1999. Belzer continued the role in the “Law & Order” series, appearing in the first episode of the series in 1993. “Law & Order: Special Victims Unit” debuted in 1999, with Belzer starring until 2016 – a whopping 326 episodes, according to IMDb.

With his dark, sharp suits and glasses, Belzer cut an imposing yet approachable figure, making the often cynical but committed sleuth a TV icon. The role earned her a 2008 People’s Choice Award for Favorite Scene Stealing Star.

“Loved this guy so much,” wrote Laraine Newman, comedian and original SNL cast member, on Twitter. “One of the funniest people of all time.”

The actor and comedian Henry Winkler quote tweeted Newman to also commemorate Belzer. “Rest in Peace Richard,” Winkler writing.

Belzer’s former SVU co-star Mariska Hargitay wrote on Instagram, “Goodbye my dear, dear friend. I will miss you, your unique light and singular insight into this strange world.”

“How lucky the angels are to have you. I can hear them laughing already,” the actress added.

Wolf Entertainment, Dick Wolf’s production company, which produced the entire “Law & Order” franchise, also released a statement from Wolf himself.

“Richard Belzer’s Detective John Munch is one of television’s iconic characters,” Wolf wrote.

“Richard brought humor and joy to all of our lives, was a consummate professional, and will be greatly missed by all of us,” Wolf added.

Belzer’s other credits include the drama “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.

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