The death of Richard Belzer, a renowned comic who first found recognition as an edgy stand-up performer, then as the cynical but sturdy detective John Munch on Homicide: Life on the Street and Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, comes as a shock to many. He was 78.
Longtime friend and writer Bill Scheft informed The Hollywood Reporter that Belzer passed away early on Sunday morning at his house in Bozouls, in the southwest of France. Scheft explained that the patient’s final words were “Fuck you, motherfucker” and that he suffered from a number of health problems.
Who was Richard Belzer’s?
Before being memorably put to sleep by Hulk Hogan, Belzer warmed up crowds in the early days of Saturday Night Live and made his cinematic debut in the amusing The Groove Tube (1974).
Munch originally appeared on the first episode of Homicide in 1993 and made his final appearance on Law & Order: SVU in 2016. Belzer portrayed the detective on eight different shows between those two NBC dramas, and his tenure with the role was longer than that of James Arness with Gunsmoke or Kelsey Grammer with Cheers and Frasier.
Based on a real-life Baltimore detective, Munch was one of the most iconic police officers in TV history thanks to his combination of high intelligence, persistent diligence, a penchant for conspiracy theories, and a cynical approach to seeking justice. It wasn’t uncommon for him to make a point with a scathing remark like, “I’m a homicide investigator. When someone tell me the truth, that’s the only time I ever ask why,” said a classic Munch rejoinder.
Executive producer of the Homicide series Barry Levinson mentioned his appreciation for Belzer’s work on Munch during an interview he gave in 2016 for the website The Interviews: An Oral History of Television. After I heard him, I suggested we investigate Richard Belzer instead of the other actors we were considering. That was said by Levinson. I enjoy listening to him talk because of the cadence. And that’s the way it went down.”
Belzer, who is under 5 feet tall, played Munch on the NBC show throughout its entire seven-season run. The actor wasn’t ready to leave the part when the show concluded in 1999. From 1996 to 1999, he had three guest appearances as Munch on NBC’s Law & Order, and he believed the programme would be a wonderful fit for him.
I was in France with my wife when Homicide was cancelled, and she popped a bottle of champagne because “you performed this role for seven years.” According to Belzer’s account in the 2009 book Law & Order: Special Victims Unit Unofficial Companion. We had partnered up for the crossover, and when I found out that Benjamin Bratt was departing L&O, I phoned my management and suggested that they speak with Dick Wolf in the hopes that Munch might replace Bratt as Det. Lennie Briscoe’s partner. So he called, and Dick said, “What a terrific idea, but I’ve already cast Jesse Martin to play the new man [alongside Jerry Orbach].”
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