It has been reported that Richard Belzer, known as detective John Munch on Homicide: Life on the Street and Law & Order: Special Victims Unit has died at age 78. Bill Scheft, a longtime friend of the actor, told The Hollywood Reporter that the actor died his home in Bozouls in southwest France. “He had lots of health issues, and his last words were, ‘F–k you, motherf–ker,’” Sheft told THR.
Belzer first rose to fame as an edgy stand-up performer before making his break into film. He made his film debut in The Groove Tube (1974).
Remembering Richard Belzer
Belzer would make his first appearance as Munch in 1993 on the first episode of Homicide and his last in 2016 on Law & Order: SVU. He played the detective on eight other series as well, which made his character last longer than James Arness’ on Gunsmoke and Kelsey Grammer’s on Cheers and Frasier.
Belzer was one of the most memorable TV cops in history, as his character was based on a real-life Baltimore detective. Back in 2016, Homicide executive producer Barry Levinson recalled listening to Belzer on The Howard Stern Show and wanting to try him out for the role. “We were looking at some other actors, and when I heard him, I said, ‘Why don’t we find out about Richard Belzer?” Levinson says. “I like the rhythm of the way he talks. And that’s how that happened.”
Belzer went on to portray the role throughout all seven seasons of the show, and he wasn’t quite ready to say “goodbye” to the role when the show ended in 1999. So he continued the role. “When Homicide was canceled, I was in France with my wife and she said, ‘Let’s open a bottle of champagne and toast: You did this character for seven years,’” Belze says in the 2009 book Law & Order: Special Victims Unit Unofficial Companion. “And then I remembered that Benjamin Bratt was leaving L&O, and so I called my manager and said, ‘Call Dick Wolf — maybe Munch can become [Det. Lennie] Briscoe’s partner’ —- because we had teamed for the crossover. So he called and Dick said, ‘What a great idea, but I’ve already cast Jesse Martin to be the new guy [opposite Jerry Orbach].’”
Belzer’s character would end up appearing in Law & Order: SVU in 1999 and would stay all 14 seasons of the show before calling it quits in 2014.