Richard Belzer, ‘Law & Order: SVU’ Star, Dead at 78

Richard Belzer played Detective John Munch on the crime drama from 1999 to 2016

Richard Belzer, the actor, comedian and author known for starring in Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, has died. He was 78.

Former Late Show with David Letterman writer Bill Scheft confirmed the death. Belzer died at his home in Bozouls in southwest France “peacefully with family at his side,” Scheft added.

Belzer had some health scares in the past, surviving testicular cancer in 1983, which ultimately inspired his 1997 HBO comedy special Another Lone Nut.

In the same special, he joked about another moment on The Richard Belzer Show, in which celebrity guest Hulk Hogan put the host in a chokehold, causing him to pass out and hit his head on the stage. Belzer sued and they later settled out of court.

Belzer was mourned by various famous friends after news of his death was made public.

“Richard Belzer’s detective John Munch is one of television’s iconic characters,” Dick Wolf, Law & Order: SVU creator and executive producer, said in a statement.

“I first worked with Richard on the Law & Order/Homicide crossover and loved the character so much, I told Tom (Fontana) that I wanted to make him one of the original characters on SVU.

The rest is history. Richard brought humor and joy into all our lives, was the consummate professional, and we will all miss him very much.”

Laraine Newman, who was a cast member on Saturday Night Live from 1975 to 1980, was one of many to pay tribute to Belzer on Twitter after he served as the NBC sketch comedy show’s warm-up comedian during her run.

“I’m so sad to hear of Richard Belzer’s passing,” she wrote Sunday. “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,” added Newman.

Marc Maron wrote in a tribute post: “Richard Belzer died. He was an original. One of the greats, babe. I loved the guy. RIP”

“The Belz… Even holding his dog he was always the coolest cat in the room,” wrote Jeff Ross, sharing a throwback photo of Belzer with his poodle-fox terrier mix Bebe.

Belzer was best known for his role as Detective John Munch on Law & Order: Special Victims Unit. After originating the role on NBC’s Homicide: Life on the Street in 1993 and reprising the character in the Law & Order parent series, he appeared in nearly 330 episodes of SVU between 1999 and 2013, with two additional cameos in 2014 and 2016.

“It was a bit of a miracle how I got the part,” he said in an interview with The Boomer Tube. “I didn’t audition for it. Barry Levinson heard me on the Howard Stern Show and brought me in to read for the character.”

Of his SVU role, Belzer noted, “I would never be a detective, but if I were, that’s how I’d be. The character is very close to how I would be. They write to all of my paranoia, anti-establishment dissonance and conspiracy theories, so it’s a lot of fun for me. It’s like a dream, actually.”

Other acting highlights from Belzer’s career include his role as a Babylon Club M.C. in the 1983 film Scarface, his role as the president in the 1998 film Species II and The Flash TV series in 1991.

Off-screen, Belzer had a beloved comedy career, and was vocal about his belief in various conspiracy theories. Often diving into American culture — and history — Belzer has shared his unique views everywhere from on stage to in books.

In 2016, Belzer released the book Hit List: An In-Depth Investigation into the Mysterious Deaths of Witnesses to the JFK Assassination.

His other books include, but are not limited to, UFOS, JFK and Elvis: Conspiracies You Don’t Have to be Crazy to Believe and Dead Wrong: Straight Facts on the Country’s Most Controversial Cover-Ups.

Belzer leaves is survived by wife Harlee McBride, who he married in 1985. He has no biological children, though McBride has two from a previous relationship — Jessica and Shannon Benton.

In a 2010 conversation with Cesar’s Way Magazine, Belzer credited his dog Bebe with extending his lifespan.

“I have a bit of a temper, and if I get upset, the dog senses it,” he said. “So the dog is actually going to make me live longer. I don’t fly off the handle anywhere near as often as I used to.”