The Law & Order franchise and television at large have lost a legend. Richard Belzer, longtime Law & Order: SVU star, died on Sunday, February 19 of undisclosed health complications. Belzer played Detective John Munch for 22 seasons across multiple shows, making history as the longest-running character on TV. Now, his Law & Order co-stars Mariska Hargitay, Chris Meloni, franchise creator Dick Wolf, and more are paying tribute to their late friend.
Belzer died in his Bozouls home in the southwest of France on Sunday. Writer/friend of Belzer Bill Scheft told The Hollywood Reporter, “He had lots of health issues, and his last words were, ‘F**k you, motherf***er.’”
Hargitay, SVU‘s Olivia Benson, took to Instagram to mourn her friend, captioning the post, “Oh Richard.”
“Goodbye my dear, dear friend,” the SVU executive producer wrote. “I will miss you, your unique light, and your singular take on this strange world. I feel blessed to have known you and adored you and worked with you, side by side, for so many years. How lucky the angels are to have you. I can hear them laughing already. I love you so very much, now and forever.”
Belzer first played Munch in Homicide: Life on the Street from 1993-1999, going on to bring the character to SVU in its inaugural season in 1999. He remained on the crime procedural as a series regular until 2013, with his final appearance coming in 2016. In total, Belzer played Munch for nearly 25 years, bringing the character onto shows like The X-Files, The Beat, Arrested Development, The Wire, 30 Rock, Jimmy Kimmel Live!, and Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt.
Meloni kept his tribute short and simple, saying, “Good bye mon ami. I love you,” sharing photos from their many years together on set and off.
First was a cheeky photo of the Elliot Stabler actor planting a kiss on Belzer’s cheek with Hargitay photo-bombing in the background. Another was an on-set photo of Munch munching on an apple fed to him by Benson.
Good bye mon ami. I love you.#TheBelz pic.twitter.com/CPJIyNDxYk
— Chris Meloni (@Chris_Meloni) February 19, 2023
— Chris Meloni (@Chris_Meloni) February 19, 2023
Executive producer Wolf also paid homage to Belzer by the sharing the story of how Munch became a crossover character on so many shows.
“Richard Belzer’s Detective John Munch is one of television’s iconic characters. I first worked with Richard on the Law & Order/Homicide crossover and loved the character so much, I told [executive producer] Tom (Fontana) that I wanted to make him one of the original characters on SVU. The rest is history,” Wolf said, per Deadline. “Richard brought humor and joy into all our lives, was the consummate professional and we will all miss him very much.”
Belzer’s death was reported by friends on social media, one of them being former SVU showrunner Warren Leight, who tweeted a video of Munch and Benson from 2016 as part of his tribute.
“Richard Belzer was the first actor to welcome me when I started at SVU,” he tweeted on Sunday. “Open, warm, acerbic, whip smart, surprisingly kind. I loved writing for Munch, and I loved being with Belz. We sensed this would be his parting scene. Godspeed, Belz…”
Kelli Giddish, who recently left SVU after 12 years, retweeted Leight’s post. Raúl Esparza retweeted a fan’s tribute.
NBC and Universal Television also issued the following statement following Belzer’s death: “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. His professionalism, talents and dedication to the craft made him a pillar in the industry, but it was his humor, compassion and loving heart that made him family. Our condolences go out to his loved ones as we join them in mourning his loss, but also in celebrating his memory.”
Belzer was a stand-up comedian before his historic turn as TV’s most present detective. He was the original warm-up act for Saturday Night Live. Original SNL cast member Laraine Newman was one of the first celebrities to comment on his passing on February 19.
“I’m so sad to hear of Richard Belzer’s passing. I loved this guy so much,” she tweeted. “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.”
Marc Maron, an old pal of Belzer’s, said “He was an original. One of the greats, babe. I loved the guy. RIP” in a Twitter tribute. Former Daily Show host Jon Stewart also shared kind words.
“Rest in Peace Belz. No better time than sitting in the back at Catch watching Richard wreck crowd after crowd…a master,” he tweeted.
Belzer is survived by his wife, Homicide: Life on the Street actress Harlee McBride.