Richard Belzer, comedian and Jewish TV cop for all seasons, dies at 78

Belzer played the character of John Munch in ‘Homicide: Life on the Street,’ ‘The X-Files’ and ‘Law & Order: SVU’


Creative Commons Attribution 2.0

By PJ Grisar, The Forward

In the 1970s, Belzer served as the warm-up comedian for SNL, and appeared multiple times on its early seasons in bit parts. He made memorable appearances in films like Fame and Author! Author! In the 1980s. Belzer then moved onto a short-lived gig as the host of the cable TV show Hot Properties, where he interviewed Leonard Cohen, and was knocked out by Hulk Hogan (Belzer sued the wrestler, the parties settled).

But Belzer’s most curious contribution to the culture was what began as a gig on Homicide: Life on the Street, where he played the ever-cynical Baltimore Police Department Det. Munch for 122 episodes. Munch was never meant to be limited to one procedural, however, and soon made an appearance on The X-Files. In a twist, Belzer, who had a reputation for believing conspiracy theories, played a skeptic on the sci-fi show, though he’d develop a conspiratorial edge later.

Munch’s credits are to be envied by most working actors, appearing on The Wire, and Mad About You, before finding his most steady employment attached to the NYPD’s special victim’s unit in Law & Order: SVU for 20 seasons. Single-handedly, Belzer’s Munch created a shared TV universe that includes the Muppets and Tobias Fünke.

“It was a bit of a miracle how I got the part,” Belzer said of Munch in an interview, noting how Homicide executive producer Barry Levinson brought him in to read after hearing him on The Howard Stern Show. “I would never be a detective, but if I were, that’s how I’d be. The character’s very close to how I would be, they write to all my paranoia and anti-establishment dissidence and conspiracy theories.”

Out-of-character, Belzer, who retired from acting in 2016, was known for some out-there claims about the U.S. government, co-authoring Hit List: An In-Depth Investigation into the Mysterious Deaths of Witnesses to the JFK Assassination and other books. Belzer, who began his career on the National Lampoon Radio Hour, also made appearances on Alex Jones’ InfoWars in the 2010s. 

Belzer, who warned the U.S. was becoming a “fascist state” as early as 2013, had been living in the South of France. 

This article was originally published on the Forward.