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Richard Belzer, comedian and ‘Law & Order’ star dead at 78

Richard Belzer, a comedian known for his role as cynical “Law & Order” detective John Munch, has died at 78 — his last words as edgy as his long career: “F— you, motherf—er.”

Belzer died early Sunday at his home in Bozouls, France, his pal and writer Bill Scheft told The Hollywood Reporter.

The actor was famous for his role as the grizzled and wise-cracking Munch, appearing on multiple shows, including “Homicide: Life on the Street” and “Law & Order: SVU,” and had cameos in other shows like “The X Files.”

Belzer portrayed Munch for 23 years, beginning in 1993 and ending in 2016 when he retired from acting. He also appeared as Munch in shows as far-ranging as “The Wire” and “Arrested Development.”

Scheft, a former “Late Show with David Letterman” writer, said before he died, “Belzer had lots of health issues, and his last words were, ‘F–k you, motherf–er.’”

Belzer was part of the ensemble cast of “Law & Order: SVU.”
©NBC/Courtesy Everett Collectio

The sarcastic comedian also gained fans from his appearances on the “Howard Stern Show.”

Reflecting on his run as Munch, Belzer said in The Comic’s Comic in 2008. “I never asked anyone to be on their show. 

“So it’s doubly flattering to me to see me depicted in a script and that I’m so recognizable and lovable as the sarcastic detective and smart-ass.Much to my delight, because he is a great character for me to play, it’s fun for me. So I’m not upset about typecast at all,” he said.

In a different interview, Belzer said his character of Munch is “very close to how I would be” if he were a detective, although he said he’d never be one. “They write to all of my paranoia, anti-establishment dissonance and conspiracy theories, so it’s a lot of fun for me. It’s like a dream, actually.”

Belzer played the Munch character for 23 years.
Will Hart/NBC

Actor and comedian Richard Belzer is dead at 78.
Actor and comedian Richard Belzer is dead at 78.
© NBC Universal, Inc.

Belzer himself was a known conspiracy theorist, writing books that touched on the JFK assassination, UFOs, and Elvis’ death.

While known for his jokes, Belzer’s life was plagued by tragedy. Born in 1944, he grew up with an abusive mother in Connecticut, who died of cancer in 1964. His more mild-mannered father attempted suicide three years later, but Belzer found him and saved him. The following year, his father died by suicide. His brother also died by suicide in 2014.

Belzer used his tragedy for comedic relief: his bout of testicular cancer in 1983 inspired his 1997 HBO comedy special “Another Lone Nut.”

Comedian Richard Belzer
Belzer with his dog Bebe in 2009.
WireImage/Gary Gershoff

Richard Belzer
The comedian performs at The Stress Factory Comedy Club on Jun, 30, 2011 in New Jersey.
WireImage/Bobby Bank

“Law & Order” creator Dick Wolf issued a statement, to Variety  saying: “Richard Belzer’s Detective John Munch is one of television’s iconic characters,” adding: “Richard brought humor and joy into all our lives, was the consummate professional and we will all miss him very much.”

Mariska Hargitay hailed her “Law&Order:SVU” co-star in a tender post on Instagram.

“I will miss you, your unique light, and your singular take on this strange world,” she wrote. “I feel blessed to have known you and adored you and worked with you, side by side, for so many years.”

“”Richard Belzer was simply hilarious. A genius at handling a crowd,” actor, filmmaker and comedian Billy Crystal tweeted. “So sad he’s passed away,” 

Laraine Newman, an original cast member of “Saturday Night Live,” said on Twitter that she was “so sad” to hear of his passing. 

“I loved this guy so much. He was one of my first friends when I got to New York to do SNL,” she wrote. “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.”

Comedian Jeff Ross said online that Belzer “was always the coolest cat in the room.”

Belzer’s official cause of death was not immediately known. 

He is survived by his third wife, actress Harlee McBride, and two stepdaughters.

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