Richard Belzer, an iconic stand-up comedian and one of the quintessential TV cops of the ’90s and 2000s, has passed away at age 78. The Homicide: Life on the Street star was seventy-eight. According to Deadline, the news of his passing was first reported by his lifelong friend, Laraine Newman of Saturday Night Live:
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
Belzer had an amazing career. While people may know him best for his role as a TV cop, his casting in Homicide: Life on the Street was considered atypical, as he was best known as a stand-up comic. He was a warm-up comedian on Saturday Night Live and the late Alan Thicke’s comic sidekick in the infamously short-lived Thicke of the Night. Belzer was so well-known as a comic that in his early acting roles, such as in the movie version of Fame, Scarface, or Mad Dog and Glory, he was always cast as an M.C.
His career changed significantly when Barry Levinson cast him as Detective John Munch in the iconic Homicide: Life on the Street. He was so popular in the role that, in a highly unusual move, he was allowed to reprise Munch on various TV shows made by competing networks. He played Munch on The X-Files, The Wire (which came from the folks behind Homicide) and, most notably, Law & Order and the spinoff, Law & Order: SVU. According to Wikipedia, he held the record, for a long time, as the actor who played the same character the longest on TV, having played Munch for twenty-two consecutive seasons on Homicide: Life on the Street and Law & Order: SVU. The record has since been broken by his SVU co-star Mariska Hargitay.
Interestingly, Belzer also had a sideline as an author of conspiracy theory books relating to UFOs and the JFK assassination, with his obsession being worked into the character of John Munch.
According to reports, Belzer’s health had been declining in recent years, with him not having an on-screen credit since playing a thinly-veiled version of John Munch on Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt. Truly, Belzer was one of a kind and a true icon that will be missed.
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