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

Sardonic actor played Det. John Munch on the long-running crime series spinoff and “Homicide: Life on the Street”

Richard Belzer
Actor Richard Belzer attends "The King of Comedy" Closing Night Screening Gala during the 2013 Tribeca Film Festival. (Photo by Stephen Lovekin/Getty Images for Tribeca Film Festival)

Richard Belzer, original cast member of “Law & Order: Special Victims Unit,” has died at the age of 78, according to media reports. The cause of death is currently unknown.

“Richard Belzer was the first actor to welcome me when I started at ‘SVU,’” current “SVU” showrunner Warren Leight wrote. “Open, warm, acerbic, whip smart, surprisingly kind. I loved writing for Munch, and I loved being with Belz.”

Belzer was best known to fans of the long-running crime drama as NYPD Det. John Munch, a sardonic investigator whose dry wit was guided by the actor’s years of stand-up comedy experience. While Belzer was best known for playing Munch on “Law & Order: SVU” from 1999 to 2013, he had previously played the character for seven seasons on the NBC drama “Homicide: Life on the Street,” during which Munch was a homicide detective that served as a mentor to his younger partner Det. Beau Felton, played by Daniel Baldwin.

On four occasions during the show’s run, “Homicide” had crossover episodes with “Law & Order,” as the show’s executive producers Tom Fontana and Dick Wolf were close friends. This allowed Belzer to easily make the jump from “Homicide” to “SVU,” with Munch transferring from Baltimore Police’s homicide division to NYPD’s special victims unit.

Along with the two shows, Belzer also had cameos as Munch on nine other TV shows, including on an episode of “The X-Files” in which Munch had arrested and interrogated The Lone Gunmen, a trio of hackers and conspiracy theorists who aided Agents Mulder and Scully in their paranormal investigations, for breaking into a warehouse in Baltimore.

Belzer also cameoed as Munch on “The Wire,” “Arrested Development,” “Law & Order: Trial by Jury” and “30 Rock,” the last of which involved him appearing on an episode of “SVU” being watched by the characters on the show.

Prior to “Homicide,” Belzer had gotten his start in showbiz as part of New York’s stand-up comedy scene, performing at venues like The Improv and serving as the audience warm-up for “Saturday Night Live.” He also performed on the “National Lampoon Radio Hour” alongside the likes of John Belushi, Chevy Chase, Gilda Ratner and Bill Murray. He retired from acting in 2016.

Belzer’s death was first reported by The Hollywood Reporter.

Here are a few of the many tributes to Belzer: