Richard Belzer Has Died At 78
Richard Belzer, stand-up comedian who played legendary detective John Munch on several cop shows, died today. The sad news was first delivered by Richard’s friend Laraine Newman on Twitter:
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
After Laraine’s tweet made the rounds, some claimed that the news of Richard Belzer’s death was a hoax since there was no confirmation by his reps or family. But sadly, it’s not a hoax and is true. Although, Richard was a noted conspiracy theorist so he’d probably love that his death became a conspiracy theory for a minute. Richard was 78.
There are no other details about Richard’s death, but his friend Bill Scheft tells The Hollywood Reporter that he died at his home in the South of France, where he’s been living for decades. And Bill shared Richard’s touching and poetic last words, which should go on his tombstone!
Belzer died early Sunday at his home in Bozouls in southwest France, writer Bill Scheft, a longtime friend of the actor, told The Hollywood Reporter. “He had lots of health issues, and his last words were, ‘Fuck you, motherfucker,’” Scheft said.
Richard, seen above in the header pic with one of his beloved pooches Bebe who he brought to many events in the past, was born on August 4, 1944, in Bridgeport, Connecticut. Like many comedians, Richard used humor at a very young age to get through trauma in his life. Richard had a shitty, abusive childhood and, in an interview with People in 1993, said that he tried to distract his mother with the funnies to keep her from abusing him.
Belzer’s biting humor wasn’t just an act. He and his elder brother, Len, lived a miserable childhood in Bridgeport, Conn. “Our mother didn’t know how to love her sons appropriately,” says Len, who hosts, produces and writes the syndicated radio show The Comedy Hour. “She always had some rationale for hitting us.” Adds Richard: “My kitchen was the toughest room I ever worked. I had to make my mom laugh or I’d get my ass kicked.” To this day he’s bitter toward his mother, Frances, who died in 1964. “I visited her grave nine years ago,” he says, “and I said, ‘I forgive you,’ but it had no meaning because I didn’t forgive her.”
After Richard graduated high school, he went to Dean Junior College in Massachusetts for a minute but was expelled for organizing on-campus protests. Richard then worked several jobs, including as a reporter for The Bridgeport Post. After Richard’s mother, Frances, died of breast cancer in 1964, his father, Charles, took her death hard and died by suicide in 1968. His brother also died by suicide in 2014. Richard said that the suicide of his father rocked him hard but also inspired him to take chances and get into comedy.
Richard moved to NYC in the late-60s to make it in comedy and eventually joined the comedy troupe One Channel. Performing with One Channel led to stand-up gigs, which led to Richard performing on National Lampoon Radio Hour with Chevy Chase, Harold Ramis, Gilda Radner, John Belushi, and Bill Murray. And that led to Lorne Micheals hiring Richard to warm-up audiences before tapings of Saturday Night Live. Richard also made appearances on the show a few times.
By the late 70s, Richard started to branch out and got into acting. Here’s a young Richard Bezler and Brian Doyle-Murray on an episode of Sesame Street in 1978:
Throughout the 70s, 80s, and 90s, Richard was in the movies Fame, Scarface, Night Shift, The Big Picture, Fletch Lives, The Bonfire of the Vanities, Dangerous Game, North, Mad Dog and Glory, Girl 6, A Very Brady Sequel, and Species II. And he guest-starred on the shows Moonlighting, Mad About You, Lois & Clark, Miami Vice, and The Flash. Richard also hosted a cable talk show in the 1980s called Hot Properties. During one episode, Hulk Hogan was a guest, and Richard asked Hulk to put him in a wrestling hold. Hulk did, and Richard ended up passing out and hitting his head on the floor. He had to get nine stiches in his head. Richard ended up suing Hullk for $5 million. They eventually settled out of court, and Richard later said he used the settlement money to buy a farmhouse in the South of France that he called Chez Hogan.
And in 1993, Richard first played the role that made him a rich TV star: Detective John Munch!
Richard made his debut as Munch on the Baltimore-based Homicide: Life on the Street and played the role for the show’s entire run (seven seasons plus a movie). Homicide may have ended in 1999, but that wasn’t the end of Munch. Far from it! Munch moved from Baltimore to NYC to join forces with Det. Olivia Benson (Mariska Hargitay) and Det. Elliot Stabler (Christopher Meloni) on Law & Order: SVU. Richard played Munch for the show’s first fifteen seasons from 1999 to 2014 and returned for a very special guest cameo in season 17. And Munch stayed busy, because Richard also played the character in episodes of The X-Files, The Beat, Arrested Development, 30 Rock, Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, The Wire, and other Law & Order spin-offs. All in all, Munch has been in ten series over five networks. And apparently, Richard bombed his audition for Munch, but Homicide executive producer Barry Levinson believed in him and kept working with him. via People:
“It was a bit of a miracle how I got the part,” he said in an interview with The Boomer Tube. “I didn’t audition for it. Barry Levinson heard me on the Howard Stern Show and brought me in to read for the character.”
Of his SVU role, Belzer noted, “I would never be a detective, but if I were, that’s how I’d be. The character is very close to how I would be. They write to all of my paranoia, anti-establishment dissonance and conspiracy theories, so it’s a lot of fun for me. It’s like a dream, actually.”
Here’s Munch’s last appearance on SVU:
Oh man…RIP Richard Belzer 🙏…his final appearance on Law & Order: SVU as John Munch has all the feels
— Wu-Tang is for the Children (@WUTangKids) February 19, 2023
On top of being a stand-up comedian, an iconic TV cop, and a noted conspiracy theorist, Richard was also an author and wrote several books, including Dead Wrong: Straight Facts on the Country’s Most Controversial Cover-Ups Book, I Am Not A Cop!, and UFOs, JFK, and Elvis: Conspiracies You Don’t Have to Be Crazy to Believe.
Richard is survived by his third wife, Harlee McBride, and stepdaughters, Bree and Jessica.
Rest in peace, Richard Belzer.