Richard Belzer, ‘Law & Order’ star and comedian, dies at 78

Richard Belzer, ‘Law & Order’ star and comedian, dies at 78

Belzer’s wisecracking investigator John Munch spanned numerous shows and networks across the performer’s long career.

Richard Belzer, the comedian and actor best known for his role as John Munch on the Law & Order franchise, died Sunday at his home in France. He was 78.

Writer Bill Scheft, a longtime friend of the actor, confirmed the news to EW, noting that Belzer had a number of health issues. Scheft said Belzer’s final words were, “F— you, motherf—er.” He told EW over the phone, “Isn’t that phenomenal? I told [Belzer’s wife] Harlee, ‘I’ve got to put that in the obituaries.”

On social media, SVU showrunner Warren Leight, executive producer Julie Martin, and stars Mariska Hargitay and Christopher Meloni mourned the loss of their former colleague.

Belzer began his career as a stand-up comic who was part of Channel One, the comedy troupe formed by Ken Shapiro, Lane Sarasohn, and Chevy Chase, that served as the basis of the 1974 satire film The Groove Tube. He was also the warm-up comedian for Saturday Night Live and appeared on the show between 1975 and 1980.

He cited his abusive childhood as the catalyst for his comedy career, telling People in 1993 that his mother beat him and his brother. “She always had some rationale for hitting us,” Belzer said. “My kitchen was the toughest room I ever worked. I had to make my mom laugh or I’d get my ass kicked.” 

Belzer’s most memorable role came as investigator John Munch in the NBC crime drama Homicide: Life on the Street, which ran for seven seasons between 1993 and 1997. Over the course of 23 years, Belzer played the role of Munch across not just the long-running Law & Order franchise, but several other shows (and networks), including The X-Files, The Wire, Arrested Development, Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, and 30 Rock.

Richard Belzer during Richard Belzer Ad Shoot for the “Little Shelter Animal Adoption Center” at Jim Saldano Studio in New York City, New York, United States. (Photo by Jemal Countess/WireImage)

Richard Belzer

| Credit: Jemal Countess/WireImage

Modern fans might know Belzer best from Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, which he starred in between 1999 and 2013. He made his final appearance in the series in 2016.

Belzer’s other credits include movies like Scarface, Missing Pieces, The Puppet Masters, Species II, and The Comedian and TV shows such as Mad About You, 3rd Rock from the Sun, Minding the Store, and American Dad.

A self-proclaimed conspiracy theorist, Belzer also authored a series of books, including UFOs, JFK, and Elvis: Conspiracies You Don’t Have to Be Crazy to Believe, Hit List: An In-Depth Investigation into the Mysterious Deaths of Witnesses to the JFK Assassination, and Dead Wrong: Straight Facts on the Country’s Most Controversial Cover-Ups.

Belzer survived testicular cancer in 1983, which he discussed in his stand-up special Another Lone Nut.

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