Richard Belzer, stand-up comic and longtime TV detective, dies at 78

Belzer portrayed the wisecracking detective John Munch on Homicide: Life on the Street” and “Law & Order: Special Victims Unit.”

In this photo from May 24, 2018, Richard Belzer attends The Paley Center For Media Presents: "Homicide: Life On The Street: A Reunion" at The Paley Center for Media in New York City. Belzer reportedly has died at age 78 in France.
Jamie McCarthy / TNS file photo

Richard Belzer, a revered actor and comedian known for playing wisecracking detective John Munch on numerous TV series — including “Homicide: Life on the Street” and “Law & Order: Special Victims Unit” — reportedly has died. He was 78.

Belzer died Sunday at his home in Bozouls, France, comedy writer Bill Scheft told the Hollywood Reporter.

Before making a name for himself on the small screen, Belzer performed stand-up at comedy clubs such as Pip’s, the Improv and Catch a Rising Star in New York City. He also served as a warm-up act on “Saturday Night Live” in the early days of the sketch comedy program.

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Belzer portrayed the wisecracking detective John Munch on Homicide: Life on the Street” and “Law & Order: Special Victims Unit.”

Belzer debuted the beloved character of John Munch on the 1990s crime drama “Homicide: Life on the Street” before reprising the role for “Homicide: The Movie” and “Law & Order: Special Victims Unit.” His portrayal of the sarcastic Munch was so popular, Belzer also made cameos and guest appearances as the witty investigator in a number of other shows, including “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt,” “30 Rock,” “The Wire,” “Arrested Development” and “The X-Files.”

During his career, Belzer’s Munch surpassed Kelsey Grammer’s Dr. Frasier Crane of “Cheers” and James Arness’ Marshal Matt Dillon of “Gunsmoke” as the most prolific TV character of all time.


After Munch retired on a landmark episode of “SVU” in 2013, Belzer penned a heartfelt essay bidding farewell to his onscreen alter ego for HuffPost. He returned to the show, however, for one final appearance in 2016.

“I am truly blessed to have been in the company of so many remarkable people for such a long time!” Belzer wrote in 2013.

“Yes, I am sad. Yes, it’s bittersweet. But after 21 years, smart money is on Munch not totally disappearing from the face of the earth. If Sherlock Holmes can survive the Reichenbach Falls then surely we have not seen the last of Detective Sergeant John Munch.”

In a statement shared on Instagram, “SVU” star Mariska Hargitay remembered Belzer as a “dear, dear friend.” Christopher Meloni, who plays detective Elliot Stabler on “SVU,” also tweeted “Good bye mon ami. I love you,” in honor of his late co-star.

“I will miss you, your unique light, and your singular take on this strange world,” said Hargitay, who plays detective Olivia Benson on “SVU.”

“I feel blessed to have known you and adored you and worked with you, side by side, for so many years. How lucky the angels are to have you. I can hear them laughing already. I love you so very much, now and forever.”

Prolific TV producer Dick Wolf, who created “SVU,” hailed Belzer as a “consummate professional” who “brought humor and joy into all our lives.”

“Richard Belzer’s Detective John Munch is one of televsion’s iconic characters,” Wolf wrote 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. ... We will all miss him very much.”

©2023 Los Angeles Times. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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