Comedian and 'SVU' actor Richard Belzer has died at 78, friend Laraine Newman announces
Actor Henry Winkler is among those paying tribute to actor and comedian Richard Belzer, who has reportedly died at age 78. Former Saturday Night Live star Laraine Newman was the first to break the news of Belzer's death, calling him "one of the funniest people ever."
Winkler, who was Belzer's cousin, re-posted Newman's post and added, "Rest in peace Richard."
Writer Bill Scheft told The Hollywood Reporter that his longtime friend died early Sunday at his home in Bozouls in southwest France. “He had lots of health issues, and his last words were, ‘F*** you, motherf*****,'” Scheft told the outlet.
The beloved actor, who started out on the standup circuit, found mainstream audiences with his roles on NBC's Homicide: Life on the Street and Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, becoming instantly identifiable with his character, police detective John Munch. Like his onscreen alter ego, Belzer had a fascination with conspiracy theories, and wrote four books — two of them New York Times bestsellers — about what he saw as "controversial cover-ups."
On social media, friends and fans were quick to celebrate the life of the actor. SVU star Mariska Hargitay said she would miss Belzer's "unique light, and your singular take on this strange world."
Christopher Meloni, who portrayed Det. Elliot Stabler opposite Belzer on SVU, posted a couple throwback photos in Belzer's honor. "Good bye mon ami. I love you," he captioned one, which showed him planting a kiss on Belzer's cheek, as Hargitay looked on in the background. Another showed Hargitay feeding Belzer an apple on set.
Good bye mon ami. I love you.#TheBelz pic.twitter.com/CPJIyNDxYk
— Chris Meloni (@Chris_Meloni) February 19, 2023
— Chris Meloni (@Chris_Meloni) February 19, 2023
Jon Stewart called Belzer "a master" at stand-up comedy.
Rest in Peace Belz. No better time than sitting in the back at Catch watching Richard wreck crowd after crowd…a master.
— Jon Stewart (@jonstewart) February 19, 2023
Marc Maron hailed the comic as "one of the greats."
Richard Belzer died. He was an original. One of the greats, babe. I loved the guy. RIP
— marc maron (@marcmaron) February 19, 2023
"A true original," Patton Oswalt said of Belzer.
Aw goddamit, RIP Richard Belzer. I just always thought he’d be around ‘cause it seemed like he always was. A true original. #TheBelzBabe
— Patton Oswalt (@pattonoswalt) February 19, 2023
In her tribute, Newman — mother of Hacks actress Hannah Einbinder — recalled how Belzer was one of her "first friends" when she arrived in New York. She described him as "a master at crowd work." When someone speculated that news of Belzer's death were part of a hoax, Newman replied, "I wish it was a hoax."
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. 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. pic.twitter.com/u23co0JPA2
— Laraine Newman (@larainenewman) February 19, 2023
SVU showrunner Warren Leight spoke of how much he loved working with Belzer, sharing that the actor was "surprisingly kind."
Richard Belzer was the first actor to welcome me when I started at SVU. Open, warm, acerbic, whip smart, surprisingly kind. I loved writing for Munch, and I loved being with Belz. We sensed this would be his parting scene. Godspeed Belz…
https://t.co/PhVvZMMcj0 via @YouTube
— Warren Leight (@warrenleightTV) February 19, 2023
Jeffrey Ross called Belzer "the coolest cat in the room."
The Belz… Even holding his dog he was always the coolest cat in the room. #RichardBelzer pic.twitter.com/QtMYBMl7OJ
— Jeff Ross (@realjeffreyross) February 19, 2023
Ellen Barkin, Billy Crystal and Richard Lewis were among those also sharing tributes.
Richard Belzer was simply hilarious. A genius at handling a crowd. So sad he’s passed away.
— Billy Crystal (@BillyCrystal) February 19, 2023
Rest In Peace dear sweet kind Richard Belzer. Rest In Peace.
— Ellen Barkin (@EllenBarkin) February 19, 2023
Old pals are disappearing.
Belzer passed today.
Love to his family.
In happier times this is us a few days before selling out Town Hall.
We practically started our careers the same moment in NYC.
He made me laugh a billion times.
RIP Belz❤️ pic.twitter.com/uc39kvxRSD
— Richard Lewis (@TheRichardLewis) February 19, 2023
R.I.P. Richard Belzer. Another legend lost. My condolences to the Belzer family.
— John Melendez (@stutteringjohnm) February 19, 2023
Richard Belzer was as kind as he was funny. I will miss his brand of comedy that was not confined to boundaries. And will always be grateful for a friendship that lasted almost 50 years. R.I.P .Belz#RichardBelzer pic.twitter.com/635KQPvPEX
— Alan Zweibel (@AlanZweibel) February 19, 2023
Richard Belzer was one of the most kindest and welcoming actors when I guested on two episodes of Law and Order: SVU. His passing is truly a loss for Hollywood and I will miss him dearly. RIP Richard Belzer. pic.twitter.com/oI4PzLr04I
— Marlee Matlin (@MarleeMatlin) February 19, 2023
25 years ago I wanted to be a stand up comic so this was the first book I read .. Thank you for changing my life Richard Belzer… my comedy brother. Rest in peace and make God laugh❤️ pic.twitter.com/tO6okroieM
— loni love (@LoniLove) February 19, 2023
Universal Television and NBC also commented on Belzer's death in a statement. "Anyone who ever had the pleasure of watching Richard Belzer portray Det. John Munch — whether on Homicide or Law & Order: SVU— over four decades will never forget how much he inhabited that beloved character to make it his own,” it read.
“Richard Belzer’s Detective John Munch is one of television’s iconic characters,” Law & Order creator Dick Wolf said in a statement to Variety. “I first worked with Richard on the Law & Order/Homicide crossover and loved the character so much, I told Tom [Fontana] that I wanted to make him one of the original characters on SVU. The rest is history. Richard brought humor and joy into all our lives, was the consummate professional and we will all miss him very much.”
In 2013, it was announced that Belzer would be leaving the iconic crime series after 15 seasons. he went on to return to SVU in 2016, bringing back his beloved character for a guest appearance. Belzer's death also comes on the heels of his onscreen partner, Ice-T, being honored with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in a ceremony on Friday attended by Wolf and Hargitay.
Following his retirement from SVU, Belzer moved to the south of France. He married his third wife, former actress Harlee McBride, in 1985 and had two stepdaughters.