Actor, comedian and author Richard Belzer, who was known for portraying a cynical detective on the long-running “Law & Order: Special Victims Unit” TV series, has died, his friends and former publisher said Sunday.
Belzer, 78, died early Sunday at his home in southern France, his longtime friend Bill Scheft told The Hollywood Reporter.
“He had lots of health issues, and his last words were, ‘Fuck you, motherfucker,’” Scheft said.
Tony Lyons, who published one of Belzer’s final books on conspiracy theories, praised him as brave and nonconforming in a statement to HuffPost confirming his death.
“Richard Belzer was an incredibly brave man and his death is a great loss, especially at a … time where the mass of men lead lives of sheepish conformity,” said Lyons of Skyhorse Publishing.
Fellow actress and comedian Laraine Newman, who worked with Belzer at NBC’s “Saturday Night Live” when he was a comic and she was an original cast member, was among the first to react to the news of Belzer’s death.
“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,” she tweeted Sunday.
Belzer was best known professionally for his portrayal of Detective John Munch in more than 300 episodes of the NBC “Law & Order” drama. He also portrayed Munch in the 1990s police drama “Homicide: Life in the Street,” which was based in Baltimore.
He left “Law & Order: SVU” as a series regular in 2013.
Warren Leight, who worked as a showrunner on “Law & Order: SVU,” called Belzer “open, warm, acerbic, whip smart, surprisingly kind,” while reacting to news of his death.
“I loved writing for Munch, and I loved being with Belz. We sensed this would be his parting scene,” he posted on Twitter while sharing a video clip of Belzer’s final appearance on the show.
Though Belzer’s character had occasional mentions on the show after his departure, he hadn’t been brought up in a while until an unexpected revelation last week. Munch’s former partner, Odafin “Fin” Tutuola — who is played by Ice-T — said Munch had moved “back to Baltimore.”
“He retired. I guess he just ran out of gas,” Fin said. “Met a divorced female rabbi. And he bought back his old cop bar. It’s 1:30 a.m. He’s probably cracking a joke to some barfly. That skinny bastard had a punchline for every second of the day.”
Belzer’s books include a crime fiction series, a stand-up comedy guide, and several publications on alleged cover-ups and conspiracies, including his latest co-authored book, “Corporate Conspiracies: How Wall Street Took Over Washington.”
“Belzer wrote books that would certainly be broadly censored by the current corporate media that has a stranglehold on what is presented as truth to the American people,” said Lyons.
In addition to unraveling conspiracies, actual or alleged, Beltzer’s website describes him as also “particularly concerned about violence, gun control, and animal welfare” and lists nonprofit organizations that he encouraged support for. These include the North Shore Animal League, a no-kill rescue and adoption organization based in New York, and the Brady Campaign, which advocates for gun control and against gun violence.
“If you’re a fan of The Belz, you probably already know that underneath that tough-guy TV image and caustic stand-up humor, there’s a big sloppy soft heart,” his website reads. “He supports key organizations in these areas, and wants you to support them too.”