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Richard Belzer, stand-up comic and TV detective, dies at 78

today02/20/2023 42

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NEW YORK (AP) — Richard Belzer, the longtime stand-up comedian who became one of TV’s most indelible detectives as John Munch in “Homicide: Life on the Street” and “Law & Order: SVU,” has died.

He was 78.

Belzer died Sunday at his home in Beaulieu-sur-Mer, in southern France, his longtime friend Bill Scheft said. Scheft, a writer who had been working on a documentary about Belzer, said there was no known cause of death, but that Belzer had been dealing with circulatory and respiratory issues. The actor Henry Winkler, Belzer’s cousin, tweeted, “Rest in peace Richard.”

For more than two decades and across 10 series — even including appearances on “30 Rock” and “Arrested Development” — Belzer played the wise-cracking, acerbic homicide detective prone to conspiracy theories. Belzer first played Munch on a 1993 episode of “Homicide” and last played him in 2016 on “Law & Order: SVU.”
Belzer never auditioned for the role. After hearing him on “The Howard Stern Show,” executive producer Barry Levinson brought the comedian in to read for the part.

“I would never be a detective. But if I were, that’s how I’d be,” Belzer once said. “They write to all my paranoia and anti-establishment dissidence and conspiracy theories. So it’s been a lot of fun for me. A dream, really.”  From that unlikely beginning, Belzer’s Munch would become one of television’s longest-running characters and a sunglasses-wearing presence on the small screen for more than two decades. In 2008, Belzer published the novel “I Am Not a Cop!” with Michael Ian Black. He also helped write several books on conspiracy theories, about things like President John F. Kennedy’s assassination and Malaysia Airlines Flight 370.

When “Homicide” wrapped in early 1999, Munch called Dick Wolf to see if the character could join another NBC series, “Law & Order,” where Munch had popped up in a few previous episodes. Wolf already had his leads for “Law & Order,” but he wanted Belzer to star in a spinoff. That fall, “Law & Order: SVU” premiered, with Belzer starring alongside Mariska Hargitay and Christopher Meloni in a storyline written as though Munch had transferred from Baltimore to New York.

Belzer is survived by his third wife, the actress Harlee McBride, whom he married in 1985. For the past 20 years, they lived mostly in France, in homes he purchased partially from the proceeds of a lawsuit with Hulk Hogan. In 1985, Belzer had Hogan as a guest on his cable TV talk show “Hot Properties” to perform a chin-lock on him. Belzer passed out, hit his head and sued Hogan for $5 million. They settled out of court.

Source: AP – All contents copyright 2023 Associated Press.  All rights reserved.

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