Richard Belzer, the edgy comic who pivoted into a record-breaking long run as detective John Munch, a character he played across multiple series, has passed away at his home in southwest France. He was 78.
Belzer’s passing was confirmed by The Hollywood Reporter, who spoke to his friend Bill Scheft. Belzer allegedly went out with bristling sarcasm. “He had lots of health issues, and his last words were, ‘F*ck you, mother*cker,’” Scheft told THR.
Belzer began in comedy, making his film debut in 1974’s cult film The Groove Tube, which also featured a pre-SNL Chevy Chase. Belzer joined Chase on the longtime late night sketch show, sort of: He was the show’s warm-up comedian and made a few appearances in the early years. He soon became a stand-up staple, regularly appearing on late night television.
For 22 seasons (plus a brief reappearance in 2016), Belzer played the role that would come to define him: the cynical but do-gooding investigator John Munch, who was born on Homicide: Life on the Streets. When that show ended, Munch ventured from Baltimore to New York City. There Munch became part of the Law & Order-verse, joining the spinoff Special Victims Unit. Belzer also played the character in other shows, ranging from The Wire to The X-Files to Arrested Development to American Dad.
For years Munch was the longest running consecutive primetime live-action character in television history (since eclipsed by his former SVU colleague Mariska Hargitay’s Olivia Benson).
Belzer retired in 2016. His last appearance was in the 2017 Gilbert Gottfried documentary Gilbert. Pour one out for a real one.