- Richard Belzer was a famous stand-up comedian who made his film debut in 1974’s The Groove Tube
- The actor played Det. John Munch on ‘Homicide’ and ‘Law & Order: SVU’
- He died at the age of 78 in his home in France
Richard Belzer was a beloved stand-up comedian and actor who passed away on February 19, 2023 at his home in France at the age of 78. His good friend and coworker on the early days of Saturday Night Live, Laraine Newman, shared a touching tribute on her Twitter, writing, “I loved this guy so much. He was one of my first friends when I got to New York to do SNL. One of the funniest people ever. A master at crowd work. RIP dearest.” Another longtime friend, writer Bill Scheft, summed up Richard’s acerbic wit when he told The Hollywood Reporter, “He had lots of health issues, and his last words were, ‘F*** you, m***********.'”
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
Keep reading to find out all about Belzer, below.
How did Belzer get his start?
Richard Jay Belzer was born on Aug. 4, 1944, in Bridgeport, Connecticut and quickly learned his comedic chops would help him out in life, especially with an abusive mom. “She always had some rationale for hitting us,” Belzer told People in 1993. “My kitchen was the toughest room I ever worked. I had to make my mom laugh or I’d get my ass kicked.”
Before landing on his career of choice, Belzer tried his hand at a series of odd jobs, “including census taker, dock worker and jewelry salesman,” according to The Hollywood Reporter. For a time, he also worked at the The Bridgeport Post newspaper.
His father’s suicide prompted him to pursue comedy
Three years after his mom passed away from breast cancer, Belzer’s father tried to die by suicide in 1967, but Belzer found him before it was too late, per THR. However, his dad ended up successful in his attempt a year later. Sadly, Belzer’s brother would end up jumping off his apartment building to his death in 2014 following his wife’s passing.
After the death of his father, Belzer decided to focus on his purpose and signed up for a comedy troupe in the East Village called Channel One. The group eventually made a sketch comedy movie called The Groove Tube, which was the film debut for Saturday Night Live star Chevy Chase as well.
“We were very high — when we wrote it, when we shot it, when we premiered it and when we realized we’d made a movie,” Belzer said in 2010 interview with The A.V. Club. “It was truly underground in the sense that before it was a movie, we had a little theater and we showed Groove Tube on three monitors in a 90-seat theater. So for people to pay to see television, before cable, it was pretty innovative.”
Belzer was handpicked for his most famous role of Det. John Munch
Homicide executive producer Barry Levinson admitted that he heard Belzer on The Howard Stern Show and thought he’d be a perfect fit for Detective John Munch. “We were looking at some other actors, and when I heard him, I said, ‘Why don’t we find out about Richard Belzer?” Levinson said in a 2016 interview for The Interviews: An Oral History of Television. “I like the rhythm of the way he talks. And that’s how that happened.” Belzer would end up playing the policeman on Homicide for all seven seasons from 1993 to 1999.
“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,’” Belzer recounted 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.”
However, Wolf had a different show in mind for Belzer: a spinoff. When Law & Order: SVU debuted in September 1999, Munch had relocated from Baltimore to New York to join forces with Det. Olivia Benson (Mariska Hargitay) and Det. Elliot Stabler (Christopher Meloni). He stayed for 14 seasons.
He played Munch on ‘The X-Files,’ ‘Arrested Development’ and more shows
Belzer was able to showcase Munch on a variety of programs. Munch appeared in X-Files in 1997 and was spotted on The Beat, Law & Order: Trial by Jury, The Wire and even Arrested Development, 30 Rock and Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt.
“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,” Belzer said in a 2008 interview. “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.”
Belzer was married three times
Belzer was married to Gail Susan Ross from 1966 to 1972 and Dalia Danoch from 1976 to 1978. Both marriages ended in divorce. In 1985, Belzer married actress Harlee McBride, who was famous for her Playboy work and appearing in Young Lady Chatterley. The couple were together until his death, and he is survived by Harlee’s two daughters as well, Bree and Jessica.