(KTLA) – Richard Belzer, who for more than 20 years portrayed the cynical and conspiratorial-minded John Munch in the “Law and Order” franchise, has died. He was 78.
The news of his death was first shared by actress Laraine Newman, an original cast member of “Saturday Night Live.”
“I’m so sad to hear of Richard Belzer’s passing. I loved this guy so much.,” Newman wrote on Twitter. “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.”
Writer Bill Scheft told The Hollywood Reporter Belzer, who had experienced “lots of health issues,” died at his home in the southwest of France early Sunday.
Belzer served as the warm-up comedian for the sketch comedy series for years before breaking out as one of television’s most iconic law enforcement characters.
He first began portraying Munch in the crime procedural “Homicide: Life on the Streets,” a television series based on the book written by then-Baltimore Sun reporter and future creator of “The Wire,” David Simon.
Belzer appeared in “Homicide” for seven seasons on NBC before the series concluded, but his character found a new home comprising one-half of the detective team on “Law and Order: Special Victims Unit.” Belzer’s Munch had several partners throughout his run on “SVU,” including fellow detectives portrayed by Dean Winters and Michelle Hurd. But his most famous pairing came alongside Ice-T’s Fin Tutuola, whom he shared the screen with for more than 13 years.
In addition to occasional appearances across the shared “Law and Order” universe, Belzer would go on to reprise his character on other television series, including “The X-Files,” “Sesame Street” and “30 Rock.”
A comedian at heart, Belzer continued to perform stand-up while starring in one of network television’s most popular franchises. Videos of his comedy sets can be found on his website and fellow comics shared clips of his celebrity roast appearances following news of his passing.
Comedian Marc Maron called Belzer “an original” and “one of the greats.”
Patton Oswalt said of Belzer: “I just always thought he’d be around ‘cause it seemed like he always was. A true original.”
Comedy Central, the television network home for comics and comedy sitcoms, posted a tribute on Twitter that reads: “Richard Belzer was a trailblazing comedian who influenced generations of stand-ups. His voice will be missed.”
According to his online biography, before hitting it big in showbiz, Belzer worked as a teacher, census-taker, jewelry salesman, dockworker, and a reporter for several Connecticut newspapers.
Belzer is survived by his wife and former “Homicide” co-star, Harlee McBride.