Richard Belzer, who was a staple on Law & Order: Special Victims Unit for the series’ first 14 seasons, has reportedly died at 78.
His longtime family friend Bill Scheft confirmed the news of his passing to The Daily Beast on Monday, adding that the actor had “died at home with this family around him.”
“I’m so sad to hear of Richard Belzer’s passing. I loved this guy so much. He was one of my first friends when I got to New York to do SNL,” actress Laraine Newman, who worked with Belzer during his appearances on Saturday Night Live, said in a tweet Sunday morning. “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.”
Belzer’s cousin, fellow actor Henry Winkler, tweeted “Rest in peace Richard” in response to Newman’s post.
He died at his home in southwest France early Sunday morning after a struggle with “lots of health issues,” Scheft told the Hollywood Reporter. “His last words were, ‘Fuck you, motherfucker.’”
The actor, who started his career as a stand-up comic in New York City in the 1960s before landing the iconic role of Detective John Munch on Homicide: Life on the Street and Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, had reportedly been living in France since “semi-retiring” from acting in 2016.
Born in Bridgeport, Connecticut, Belzer had spoken at large about the physical abuse he had suffered in his childhood—and how comedy had helped him cope with the violence at home.
“My wit has saved me more than once,” said Belzer in a 1997 interview with Fresh Air. “I got thrown out of every school I ever went to for uncontrollable wit. I think comedy chose me.”
The beloved actor skyrocketed to fame with his staple character, Munch, in 1993—a character who appeared in 11 different shows across multiple networks, from The X-Files to Arrested Development, and even The Wire.
Munch first traversed television universes with his switch over to Law & Order: SVU for the show’s debut in 1999. He called Dick Wolf up and originally pitched the idea for Munch to join the main series following Benjamin Bratt’s departure, but Wolf instead offered him a starring role on the series’ first spinoff, where he remained until 2013, Belzer shared in the 2009 book “Law & Order: Special Victims Unit Unofficial Campaign.”
“I love the character. The writers got to know me. The character of Munch was really close to how I do things,” he told Smashing Interviews magazine in a 2017 interview. “It was a dream come true for me and an utter delight to play this character for so many years. I’m very lucky.”
Before his breakout role, Belzer appeared in minor roles for films including Scarface, Nightshift, and The Groove Tube.
Belzer was also passionate about conspiracy theories, penning four books, inclufing “UFOs, JFK and Elvis: Conspiracies You Don’t Have to be Crazy to Believe,” and “Dead Wrong: Straight Facts on the Country’s Most Controversial Cover-Ups.”
He got his start in radio in the early 1970s as a featured star on the National Lampoon Radio Hour. Belzer went on to be a frequent guest on The Howard Stern Show, and in his later years, he regularly appeared on Alex Jones’ far-right news show,
Beyond his fascination with John F. Kennedy assassination conspiracies, he also engaged in modern conspiracies, labeling the Boston Marathon bombing a false flag.
Bezler married his third wife, actress Harlee McBride, in 1985, an actress who had appeared in TV commercials and 1977 film Young Lady Chatterley and has two daughters.