Richard Belzer, Actor Who Played John Munch on Law and Order: SVU, Dead at 78
Richard Belzer, an original Saturday Night Live cast member who became synonymous for his role as detective John Munch on Homicide: Life on the Street and Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, has died at the age of 78.
Laraine Newman, Belzer’s longtime friend and fellow SNL cast member, confirmed his passing on Sunday. Writer Bill Scheft, another longtime friend of the actor, said Belzer died early Sunday at his home in Bozouls in southwest France. “He had lots of health issues, and his last words were, ‘Fuck you, motherfucker,’” Scheft told The Hollywood Reporter.
A native of Bridgeport, Connecticut, Belzer began his career as a stand-up comedian in the 1970s, quickly winning over audiences thanks to his sharp wit and acerbic style. In 1975 he was hired to serve as the warmup comedian for SNL’s inaugural season, and proceeded to make several guest appearances throughout the show’s first five seasons.
In the 1980s, Belzer had small roles in films like Fame and Scarface. He also appeared in music videos for Mike + The Mechanics (“Taken In”), Pat Benatar (“Le Bel Age”), and Kansas (“Can’t Cry Anymore”).
In the 1990s, Belzer transitioned back to television with roles on The Flash, Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman, and Homicide: Life on the Street. It was the latter role — as detective John Munch — that would come to define Belzer’s career.
Belzer ended up portraying Munch for 22 consecutive seasons. After a nine season run on Homicide, Belzer brought the character to Law and Order SVU, which he starred on for 15 seasons. Beltzer also made cameos as Munch on The X-Files, The Wire, Arrested Development, and 30 Rock, among several other TV series. In fact, Munch is the only character to appear on eleven different television shows played by a single actor.
Much like Beltzer himself, his character was known for his dry sense of humor, cynical outlook on life, and belief in conspiracy theories. (Beltzer himself was a noted JFK conspiracy theorist and wrote several books on the topic.)
After appearing on nearly 450 episodes across Homicide and SVU, Beltzer retired the Munch character in 2016. At the time, his 22-season run was a record for a single character appearing on television in consecutive seasons (the record was later broken by his SVU co-star Mariska Hargitay).
In a tribute post, Hargitay wrote, “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 luck the angels are to have you. I can hear them laughing already.”