Richard Belzer, who began his career performing stand-up comedy before gaining fame for his portrayal of Det. John Munch in the television series “Homicide: Life on the Street” and “Law & Order: SVU,” has passed away. He was 78.
His contemporaries, including comedian Laraine Newman, “SVU” showrunner Warren Leight, and “SVU” writer and executive producer Julie Martin, shared news of Belzer’s passing through social media tributes. At this moment, no other information regarding his passing has been confirmed.
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After 230+ episodes, Belzer made his final appearance as a series regular on “SVU” in October 2013. In the “SVU” episode from October 16, 2013, Belzer’s well-traveled detective Munch—a member of the NYPD’s special victims unit—moved into an investigation position with the district attorney’s office.
A character created by Tom Fontana and Barry Levinson for NBC’s “Homicide: Life on the Street” in 1993, the gangly actor became associated with the eccentric gumshoe. The character transitioned seamlessly to “SVU” in its first season when “Homicide” ended its run at the end of the 1998–1999 season. In 1996 and 1997, the character had already made two cameo appearances on “Law & Order.” Munch advanced from detective to sergeant over the duration of “SVU’s” run.
Munch made a comeback in a “SVU” episode from May 2014 to assist Amaro (Danny Pino) after his imprisonment.
Since the character’s introduction in 1993, the Munch character has appeared in nine TV programs across five networks, more than any other fictional figure. With Munch’s retirement in the detective’s 22nd season of television, the role lasted longer on American television than Marshall Matt Dillon from “Gunsmoke” or Frasier Crane from “Cheers” and “Frasier,” who each had 20 seasons.
The comedies “3rd Rock From the Sun,” “Arrested Development,” and “30 Rock,” as well as HBO’s “The Wire,” Fox’s “The X-Files,” and UPN’s “The Beat,” all had cameo appearances by Belzer as Munch.
When working on a case involving a mother and her 10-year-old daughter being found brutally murdered in their apartment, Munch has to deal with his homeless, mentally ill uncle, played by Jerry Lewis, who takes matters into his own hands. This episode of “SVU” stands out in particular because it features Munch dealing with Jerry Lewis’ character.
Munch tells Mariska Hargitay’s Det. Olivia Benson in the 2000 episode “Legacy,” about an abused 7-year-old named Emily McKenna, that when he was a child, a young girl lived across the street from him who was abused by her mother and later died by being thrown through a glass window. Munch seems particularly moved by the case. Munch reads to Emily as he sits by her side in the hospital at the conclusion of the episode.
Munch distinguishes out as the most pessimistic investigator among all those on “SVU” or “Homicide,” despite the fact that most detectives are pessimistic. Also, he had a strong belief in conspiracies.
He was initially partnered with Det. Stanley Bolander from “Homicide,” played by Ned Beatty, who openly disapproved of Munch’s oddities.
In the 1980 movie “Fame,” Belzer played an MC; in the 1982 comedies “Author! Author!” with Al Pacino and “Night Shift” by Ron Howard, he played an MC at the Babylon Club; in the 1989 movie “Fletch Lives,” he played a TV producer; in the 1994 movies “North” and “The Puppet Masters,” he played an MC and comedian; and in the 1996 movie “A Very Brady Sequel,” he
Belzer is the cousin of actor Henry Winkler, according to a TV Guide article.
He is survived by his third wife, actress Harlee McBride, who wed Belzer in 1985 and played Dr. Alyssa Dyer, the medical examiner on “Homicide: Life on the Street,” as well as by two stepdaughters.