CAUSE OF DEATH: Actor, Richard Belzer, confirmed dead KossyDerrickBlog KossyDerrickEnt

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Sunday, February 19, 2023

CAUSE OF DEATH: Actor, Richard Belzer, confirmed dead

Richard Belzer, the beloved comedian who began as an edgy stand-up performer before finding further fame as the cynical but stalwart detective John Munch on Homicide: Life on the Street and Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, has died. He was 78. 

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.

The actor started off as a comedian, but gained fame for his role as Detective John Munch, first on Homicide Life on the Streets and then on SVU. He also appeared on the original Law and Order and Trial by Jury.

In total, Belzer played Munch on 11 different shows over the course of 22 years, including the X-Files, Arrested Development, The Wire and Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt. 

He died in at his home early Sunday in Bozouls in southwest France after battling a series of health issues.

Comedian Billy Crystal tweeted, 'Richard Belzer was simply hilarious. A genius at handling a crowd. So sad he's passed away.' 

'His last words were, 'F**k you, motherf**ker,'' writer Bill Scheft told The Hollywood Reporter.

In her tribute, Newman — mother of Hacks actress Hannah Einbinder — recalled how Belzer was one of her "first friends" when she arrived in New York. She described him as "a master at crowd work." When someone speculated that news of Belzer's death were part of a hoax, Newman replied, "I wish it was a hoax."

Ice T, the rap superstar who teamed up with Belzer as Fin Tutuola, shared his thoughts on Belzer's death Sunday afternoon.

'Highs and Lows… After one of the most amazing weeks of my life. I wake up to the news I lost my friend today. Belz is gone.. Damn it!'

Ice added: 'But remember this..When you ARE having real fun and are Truly Happy. ENJOY it to the fullest! Cause Pain is inevitably coming. I’ll miss you Homie.'

Celebrities from other walks of life also paid tribute.

'Sadly, we lose the one of a kind Richard Belzer,' wrote comic Lewis Black. 'The Belz was a pleasure and I was lucky to work with him as an actor and a comic. He was intelligent as he was funny and to watch him perform was to know why they had to come up with the word sardonic. Bon Voyage. And f**k 'em.'

SNL legend Laraine Newman added: '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 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.'

Belzer was born in Bridgeport, Connecticut, where he said he began his foray into comedy by trying to make his physically abusive mother laugh.

'I had to make my mom laugh or I'd get my a** kicked,' he told People Magazine in 1993. 

But his 'uncontrollable wit' got him into trouble in school, and his time at Massachusetts' Dean Junior College came to a sudden end when he was expelled from organizing on-campus protests.

Prior to making his career in Hollywood, Belzer held a number of odd jobs, including as a reporter for the Bridgeport Post and as a census taker. 

He finally decided to pursue comedy after his father committed suicide in 1968, responding to an ad in The Village Voice to audition for Channel One, an East Village comedy troupe.

Belzer would go on to perform the bits he had honed growing up — including imitations of Marlon Brando, Jerry Lewis and Bob Dylan — at a variety of Manhattan comedy clubs. In a 2016 interview for the website The Interviews: An Oral History of Television, Homicide executive producer Barry Levinson recalled listening to Belzer on The Howard Stern Show and liking him for Munch. “We were looking at some other actors, and when I heard him, I said, ‘Why don’t we find out about Richard Belzer?” Levinson said. “I like the rhythm of the way he talks. And that’s how that happened.”

The pencil-thin Belzer portrayed Munch on all seven seasons of the NBC series. When it ended in 1999, the actor wasn’t quite ready to say goodbye to the role. He had appeared as Munch on NBC’s Law & Order three times from 1996-99 and thought he might be a good fit on that show. 

“When Homicide was canceled, I was in France with my wife and she said, ‘Let’s open a bottle of champagne and toast: You did this character for seven years,'” Belzer recounted in the 2009 book Law & Order: Special Victims Unit Unofficial Companion. “And then I remembered that Benjamin Bratt was leaving L&O, and so I called my manager and said, ‘Call Dick Wolf — maybe Munch can become [Det. Lennie] Briscoe’s partner’ —- because we had teamed for the crossover. So he called and Dick said, ‘What a great idea, but I’ve already cast Jesse Martin to be the new guy [opposite Jerry Orbach].'”

Munch made his first appearance in 1993 on the first episode of Homicide and his last in 2016 on Law & Order: SVU. In between those two NBC dramas, Belzer played the detective on eight other series, and his hold on the character lasted longer than James Arness’ on Gunsmoke and Kelsey Grammer’s on Cheers and Frasier.

Certainly one of the most memorable cops in TV history, Munch — based on a real-life Baltimore detective — was a highly intelligent, doggedly diligent investigator who believed in conspiracy theories, distrusted the system and pursued justice through a jaded eye. He’d often resort to dry, acerbic wisecracks to make his point: “I’m a homicide detective. The only time I wonder why is when they tell me the truth,” went a typical Munch retort.

Writer Bill Scheft told The Hollywood Reporter that his longtime friend died early Sunday at his home in Bozouls in southwest France. “He had lots of health issues, and his last words were, ‘F*** you, motherf*****,'” Scheft told the outlet.

The beloved actor, who started out on the standup circuit, found mainstream audiences with his roles on NBC's Homicide: Life on the Street and Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, becoming instantly identifiable with his character, police detective John Munch. Like his onscreen alter ego, Belzer had a fascination with conspiracy theories, and wrote four books — two of them New York Times bestsellers — about what he saw as "controversial cover-ups."

On social media, friends and fans were quick to celebrate the life of the actor. SVU star Mariska Hargitay said she would miss Belzer's "unique light, and your singular take on this strange world."

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