Richard Belzer, Law & Order actor and comedian, dies aged 78

The comic-turned-television star played John Munch in Homicide: Life on the Street and Law & Order: SVU

FILE - Richard Belzer attends the premiere of "Mistaken For Strangers" during the opening night of the 2013 Tribeca Film Festival on April 17, 2013, in New York.  Belzer, the longtime stand-up comedian who became one of TV's most indelible detectives as John Munch in "Homicide: Life on the Street" and "Law & Order: SVU," has died at age 78.  Belzer died Sunday, Feb.  19, 2023, at his home in Bozouls in southern France, his longtime friend Bill Scheft told The Hollywood Reporter.  (Photo by Charles Sykes / Invision / AP, File)
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Richard Belzer, the longtime stand-up comedian who became one of television's most indelible detectives as John Munch in Homicide: Life on the Street and Law & Order: SVU, has died. He was 78.

The actor's longtime friend Bill Scheft said Belzer died Sunday at his home in Beaulieu-sur-Mer, in southern France. Scheft, a writer who had been working on a documentary about the actor, said there was no known cause of death, but that Belzer had been dealing with circulatory and respiratory issues. Actor Henry Winkler, Belzer's cousin, tweeted, “Rest in peace Richard.”

For more than two decades and across 10 series — even including appearances on 30 Rock and Arrested Development — Belzer played the wise-cracking, acerbic homicide detective prone to conspiracy theories. Belzer first played Munch on a 1993 episode of Homicide and last played him in 2016 on Law & Order: SVU.

Belzer never auditioned for the role. After hearing him on The Howard Stern Show, executive producer Barry Levinson brought the comedian in to read for the part.

“I would never be a detective. But if I were, that's how I'd be," Belzer once said. "They write to all my paranoia and anti-establishment dissidence and conspiracy theories. So it's been a lot of fun for me. A dream, really.”

From that unlikely beginning, Belzer's Munch would become one of television's longest-running characters and a sunglasses-wearing presence on the small screen for more than two decades.

In 2008, Belzer published the novel I Am Not a Cop! with Michael Ian Black. He also helped write several books on conspiracy theories, about incidents such as President John F Kennedy's assassination and the disappearance of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370.

Belzer is survived by his third wife, actress Harlee McBride, who he married in 1985. For the past 20 years, they lived mostly in France, in homes he purchased partially from the proceeds of a lawsuit with Hulk Hogan. In 1985, Belzer had Hogan as a guest on his cable TV talk show Hot Properties, to perform a chin-lock on him. Belzer passed out, hit his head and sued Hogan for $5 million. They settled out of court.

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Updated: February 20, 2023, 4:45 AM