Richard Belzer, the actor and stand-up comedian known to crime drama fans as the sarcastic homicide detective John Munch, has died. He was 78.
The Law and Order: Special Victims Unit actor passed away at his home in southern France, a friend, writer Bill Scheft, said.
No cause of death was given, but Scheft said Belzer had "a lot health issues."
Irreverent to the very end, his last words were reportedly, "F*ck you, motherf*cker."
Belzer is best known for playing John Munch, a homicide detective with a dry wit who is prone to conspiracy theories. He debuted Munch in 1993 on Homicide: Life on the Street and went on to portray him on Law And Order: SVU from 1999 until Munch's final appearance on the show in 2016.
Along the way, Munch made cameo appearances in shows like The Wire, Arrested Development, and 30 Rock. The character was inspired by Belzer's own skepticism of establishments, which led him to author books on subjects like the JFK assassination.
"I would never be a detective. But if I were, that’s how I’d be,” Belzer would recall. “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.”
The Bridgeport, Connecticut native would joke that his first gig was at his childhood home -- where he tried to pacify his abusive mother with jokes.
“My kitchen was the toughest room I ever worked. I had to make my mom laugh or I’d get my ass kicked," he later quipped.
The actor began his journey into show business after getting expelled from Dean College.
After building a reputation in New York's stand-up comedy circuit, he joined Saturday Night Live as a warm-up act and guest when it launched in 1975. He went on to score minor parts in movies like Scarface before his career-making turn as Munch.
In 1985, he got into a legal dispute with professional wrestler Hulk Hogan that led to a settlement.
Hogan, a guest on Belzer's talk show Hot Properties, had knocked the host cold with a chin lock, causing Belzer to hit his head. Belzer used the money from the settlement to buy his house in France.
“He came very close to killing me,” Belzer would later recall. “I was told by a sports medicine expert that if I had fallen a few inches either way I could have been crippled for life, I could have been dead.”
Belzer is survived by his third wife, actor Harlee McBride, and stepdaughters.