Comedian and 'SVU' actor Richard Belzer has died at 78, friend Laraine Newman announces

Actor Richard Belzer has died at age 78. (Photo: Paul Zimmerman/Getty Images)
Actor Richard Belzer has died at age 78. (Photo: Paul Zimmerman/Getty Images)

Actor Henry Winkler is among those paying tribute to actor and comedian Richard Belzer, who has reportedly died at age 78. Former Saturday Night Live star Laraine Newman was the first to break the news of Belzer's death, calling him "one of the funniest people ever."

Winkler, who was Belzer's cousin, re-posted Newman's post and added, "Rest in peace Richard."

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."

Christopher Meloni, who portrayed Det. Elliot Stabler opposite Belzer on SVU, posted a couple throwback photos in Belzer's honor. "Good bye mon ami. I love you," he captioned one, which showed him planting a kiss on Belzer's cheek, as Hargitay looked on in the background. Another showed Hargitay feeding Belzer an apple on set.

Jon Stewart called Belzer "a master" at stand-up comedy.

Marc Maron hailed the comic as "one of the greats."

"A true original," Patton Oswalt said of Belzer.

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."

SVU showrunner Warren Leight spoke of how much he loved working with Belzer, sharing that the actor was "surprisingly kind."

Jeffrey Ross called Belzer "the coolest cat in the room."

Ellen Barkin, Billy Crystal and Richard Lewis were among those also sharing tributes.

Universal Television and NBC also commented on Belzer's death in a statement. "Anyone who ever had the pleasure of watching Richard Belzer portray Det. John Munch — whether on Homicide or Law & Order: SVU— over four decades will never forget how much he inhabited that beloved character to make it his own,” it read.

“Richard Belzer’s Detective John Munch is one of television’s iconic characters,” Law & Order creator Dick Wolf said in a statement to Variety. “I first worked with Richard on the Law & Order/Homicide crossover and loved the character so much, I told Tom [Fontana] that I wanted to make him one of the original characters on SVU. The rest is history. Richard brought humor and joy into all our lives, was the consummate professional and we will all miss him very much.”

In 2013, it was announced that Belzer would be leaving the iconic crime series after 15 seasons. he went on to return to SVU in 2016, bringing back his beloved character for a guest appearance. Belzer's death also comes on the heels of his onscreen partner, Ice-T, being honored with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in a ceremony on Friday attended by Wolf and Hargitay.

Following his retirement from SVU, Belzer moved to the south of France. He married his third wife, former actress Harlee McBride, in 1985 and had two stepdaughters.