Richard Belzer Dead at 78: 'Law & Order: SVU' Actor's Colleagues Confirm His Passing

Actor Richard Belzer has reportedly passed away, leaving friends, fans and family heartbroken. The 78-year-old was known for his roles on Law & Order: Special Victims Unit and Homicide: Life on the Street, among others. He is also being remembered for his generous and collaborative nature among other performers. While Belzer's representatives and family have not issued statements on this death, high-profile peers have confirmed his passing, including Jon Stewart, Marc Maron and Julie Martin, an SVU producer.

Belzer had a long and diverse career in the entertainment industry, but most fans probably know him best for playing John Munch – a detective and police investigator created for Homicide: Life on the Streets but featured on many other shows, particularly the Law & Order franchise. At the time of this writing, reports of his passing are proliferating on social media mostly among his friends and colleagues. Comedian Laraine Newman first broke the news to the public, writing fondly of Belzer and their time together as comedians when she first joined the cast of Saturday Night Live.

"I'm so sad to hear of Richard Belzer's passing," she wrote. "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."

Martin, who also served as a writer on Homicide: Life on the Street, tweeted, "Missing Richard Belzer today. Working with him on Homicide to SVU has been a hilarious, surprising and always joyful experience. I'm sure he's giving 'em all a lot of laughs upstairs."

Belzer was born in Bridgeport, Connecticut in the August of 1944 to working-class Jewish family. After working various odd jobs in the northeast Belzer found himself in New York City as a young man pursuing a career as a comedian. He performed stand-up and improv comedy, slowly gaining the recognition to appear on TV and in movies. While he never joined the main cast of SNL, Belzer made three guest appearances on the show in the late 1970s and was also the warm-up comedian for the live crowd.

Some of Belzer's earliest movie roles included The Groove Tube, Fame, Café Flesh, Night Shift, and Scarface. However, his real breakout came in 1993 when he first established the role of John Munch. Munch is rare among TV characters for appearing on 11 different shows across six different networks, including several Law & Order spinoffs on NBC, The X-Files on Fox, The Beat on UPN, The Wire on HBO and Jimmy Kimmel Live on ABC. In more recent years, Munch even appeared on Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt on Netflix as well as other comedies like Arrested Development on Fox and 30 Rock on NBC. However, he is best known for his role on SVU where he advanced through the ranks from detective to sergeant and D.A. Investigator.

Belzer continued to pursue other creative outlets over the years while playing Munch, including other TV and movie roles and some radio appearances. He was also the author of four books, all of which are nonfiction descriptions of conspiracy theories. Belzer voiced his personal belief that there was a conspiracy to assassinate President John F. Kennedy, and also entertained theories about UFOs, the death of Elvis Presley and other viral stories.

Belzer was divorced twice before marrying his third wife, model and actress Harlee McBride, in 1985. He survived testicular cancer in 1983. He was written off of SVU in 2016 after 325 episodes on the show, and shortly after that, he retired from acting. He moved to southern France where he continued to write and collaborate with other authors. Belzer is survived by his wife McBride and two stepdaughters.