Actor Richard Belzer, famous for his roles in Law & Order: Special Victims Unit and Homicide: Life on the Street, has reportedly passed away at the age of 78. While his representatives and family have yet to confirm the news, peers such as Jon Stewart and Marc Maron have shared their condolences.
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Belzer is being remembered not only for his career as an actor but also for his generosity and collaboration with fellow performers. Many fans will recognize Belzer for his portrayal of John Munch, a detective featured in several shows, including the Law & Order franchise. Comedian Laraine Newman was among the first to share the news of his passing on social media, recalling their time together as comedians on Saturday Night Live.
“I’m so sad to hear of Richard Belzer’s passing,” she wrote on Twitter. “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.”
According to a tweet by Julie Martin, who served as a writer on Homicide: Life on the Street, “Missing Richard Belzer today. Working with him on Homicide to SVU has been a hilarious, surprising and always joyful experience. I’m sure he’s giving ’em all a lot of laughs upstairs.”
Belzer was born in Bridgeport, Connecticut in August 1944 and raised in a working-class Jewish family. He worked several jobs before eventually making his way to New York City to pursue a career in comedy. He performed stand-up and improv comedy, slowly gaining recognition and opportunities to appear on television and in movies. Although he never joined the main cast of SNL, he did make three guest appearances on the show in the late 1970s and served as the warm-up comedian for the live audience.
Belzer had early roles in movies such as The Groove Tube, Fame, Café Flesh, Night Shift, and Scarface, but his breakthrough role came in 1993 when he first portrayed John Munch. Munch was a unique TV character who appeared on 11 different shows across six different networks, including several Law & Order spinoffs on NBC, The X-Files on Fox, The Beat on UPN, The Wire on HBO, and Jimmy Kimmel Live on ABC.
In more recent years, Munch appeared on Netflix’s Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, as well as other shows such as Arrested Development and 30 Rock. Belzer is best known for his role on SVU, where he played the character who advanced through the ranks from detective to sergeant and D.A. Investigator.