Celebrity News February 19, 2023
Richard Belzer, 'Law & Order' Star and Stand-Up Legend, Dies at 78
Richard Belzer, the acerbic stand-up comic who appeared on over 300 episodes of "Law & Order: Special Victims Unit," died early Sunday at his home in France.
A close friend, writer Bill Scheft, told The Hollywood Reporter Belzer's final words were, "F**k you, motherf**ker!" — an epitaph that fits nicely with his edgy career as a comedian.
Belzer was born August 4, 1944, in Bridgeport, Connecticut. He later said he honed his comedy skills in order to distract his abusive mother from attacking him and his brother.
After a series of odd jobs and the first of two failed marriages, Belzer moved to NYC with the late Shelley Ackerman and launched what became one of the most legendary careers in stand-up comedy history.
Having been a part of the comedy troupe Channel One, he made his film debut in the cult classic "The Groove Tube" (1974), which was based on the group and its penchant for TV satire.
Belzer was featured on "The National Lampoon Radio Hour" (1973-1975) with many of the comics who became the original cast of "Saturday Night Live," and went on to appear on "SNL" three times before 1980. He had also been the warm-up act before tapings.
His work as an actor was scattershot before his "SVU" gig, and included appearances on "Sesame Street" (1978 & 1979) and "Moonlighting" (1985), in music videos for Pat Benatar's "Le Bel Age" (1974) and Mike + the Mechanics' "Taken In" (1986), and in movies including "Fame" (1980), "Author! Author!" (1982), "Night Shift" (1982), and "A Very Brady Sequel" (1996).
Typically playing versions of the gruff, downtown NYC image he had created, he was a nightclub comic in "Scarface" (1983), Belz (his real-life nickname) in the Louie Anderson comedy "The Wrong Guys" (1988), himself in a cameo in the Madonna-Harvey Keitel film "Dangerous Game" (1983) when Robert De Niro failed to materialize, and himself in the Andy Kaufman biopic "Man on the Moon" (1999).
Most sensationally, hosting the Lifetime talk show "Hot Properties" in 1985, Belzer was put in a sleeper hold by Hulk Hogan, passed out, and hit his head. "He came very close to killing me," Belzer admitted in 1990.
Thanks to freewheeling appearances on radio's "The Howard Stern Show," Belzer was cast in the role of his life as grizzled, sarcastic Det. John Munch, a character he portrayed effortlessly, and most famously, on 326 episodes of "Law & Order: Special Victims Unit" (1999-2016). He also played Munch on 122 episodes of "Homicide: Life on the Street" (1993-1999) and in the 2000 TV movie of the series; on an episode of "The X-Files" (1997); on four episodes of "Law & Order" (1996-2000); on an episode of "The Beat (2000); on an episode of "Law & Order: Trial by Jury" (2005); on an episode of "The Wire" (2008); and for satirical episodes of "Arrested Development" (2006), "30 Rock" (2011 & 2013), and "Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt" (2015).
His last work was playing — what else? — a detective in a voice role for "American Dad!" in 2016, and — what else? — himself in the De Niro film "The Comedian" (2016), about an aging insult comic.
Among his other work, Belzer was a prolific author, including his 2008 work "I Am Not a Cop!: A Novel," about a fictional version of himself.
Belzer's mother died of breast cancer. His father and brother took their own lives, in 1968 and 2014, respectively, both after the loss of their spouses.
Belzer is survived by his wife of 37 years, the actress Harlee McBride, with whom he worked on "Homicide," and by his two stepdaughters.
Many performers took to social media to memorialize Belzer, who was widely beloved in the entertainment community.
"SVU" creator Dick Wolf said in a statement to Variety, "Richard Belzer’s Detective John Munch is one of television’s iconic characters. 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.”
Former co-star Vincent D'Onofrio tweeted, "Richard Belzer was always so kind to me. We met at comedy club he was performing in yrs before L&O. I was young with only one film into my career. He always remembered me. I had the pleasure of hang'n with him a couple of times. Sweet sweet man & funny as hell. He will be missed."
Richard Belzer was simply hilarious. A genius at handling a crowd. So sad he’s passed away.— Billy Crystal (@BillyCrystal) February 19, 2023 @BillyCrystal
Richard Lewis tweeted, "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."
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 @pattonoswalt
Season 1 "SNL" star Laraine Newman tweeted, "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."
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 @MarleeMatlin
Oh man, just heard about Richard Belzer, what an absolute legend. I was assigned to him when he was a judge on ‘Last Comic Standing’ he had a dog he had rescued from NOLA after Katrina and he took it everywhere in those years. He was an incredibly soulful and brilliant guy.🙏— NoelCaslerComedy🌙 (@caslernoel) February 19, 2023 @caslernoel
Richard Belzer died. He was an original. One of the greats, babe. I loved the guy. RIP— marc maron (@marcmaron) February 19, 2023 @marcmaron
Rest In Peace dear sweet kind Richard Belzer. Rest In Peace.— Ellen Barkin (@EllenBarkin) February 19, 2023 @EllenBarkin
We lost another great one, Belzer was a comic that we all looked up to starting out, fearless, funny, and unflinching in his stand up. He made the dream transition to be one hell of an actor. the afterlife just got hilariously caustic. pic.twitter.com/JGSxexnqlc— TITUS (@TitusNation) February 19, 2023 @TitusNation