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Mariska Hargitay, Ice-T, Christopher Meloni, Laraine Newman and Billy Crystal were among the Hollywood notables paying tribute to Richard Belzer, longtime Law & Order: SVU star and beloved comedian, who died Sunday at the age of 78.
Belzer, who writer and longtime friend Bill Scheft confirmed to The Hollywood Reporter had died at his home in Bozouls in southwest France, was facing a number of health issues.
The performer was known as a legend on the stage and screen, making his movie debut in 1974’s The Groove Tube and warming up audiences in Saturday Night Live’s early days. A regular detective on the small screen, Belzer’s Homicide character, the recognizable John Munch, first appeared in 1993 on the series’ first episode and made his final appearance in 2016 on Law & Order: SVU. He would appear on the long-running Dick Wolf Law & Order spinoff for nearly 15 years, with Munch retiring from the NYPD in 2014, before returning for a 17th-season episode “Fashionable Crimes.”
In a statement, Dick Wolf and his production company lauded Belzer as a “consummate professional” who “brought humor and joy into all our lives.”
“Richard Belzer’s Detective John Munch is one of television’s iconic characters,” the Instagram statement reads. “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.”
Belzer’s character on Law & Order: SVU had several partners during his run, but one of the most iconic pairings was with Ice-T’s Odafin “Fin” Tutuola. The rapper and actor took to Twitter to remember his late friend and co-star, writing, “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! 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.”
Speaking fondly of her late co-star, Hargitay wrote on Instagram: “Goodbye my dear, dear friend. 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.”
Christopher Meloni also tweeted out remembrances alongside SVU showrunner Warren Leight. In a brief Twitter statement, Meloni wrote, “Good bye mon ami. I love you,” while Leight celebrated the actor as “open, warm, acerbic, whip smart, surprisingly kind.”
“Richard Belzer was the first actor to welcome me when I started at SVU,” he continued. “I loved writing for Munch, and I loved being with Belz. We sensed this would be his parting scene. Godspeed Belz…”
SVU executive producer Julie Martin shared that working with the late performer “on Homicide to SVU has been a hilarious, surprising and always joyful experience. I’m sure he’s giving ’em all a lot of laughs upstairs.”
Belzer broke into comedy after answering an ad in The Village Voice to audition for Channel One, the New York East Village comedy troupe led by Ken Shapiro and Lane Sarasohn. Its show Groove Tube specialized in skits satirizing TV conventions like clowns on kids’ shows and anchormen, and was so successful it resulted in a film deal. He would also perform during the National Lampoon Radio Hour alongside Chevy Chase, John Belushi, Gilda Radner, Bill Murray and Harold Ramis and served as the audience warm-up comedian when Lorne Michaels launched Saturday Night Live in 1975.
Newman, who was an original castmember on SNL and one of the first to speak publicly about Belzer’s passing, tweeted on Sunday that she “loved this guy so much. 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.”
Billy Crystal also remembered the late comedian following news of his death, tweeting that Belzer “was simply hilarious. A genius at handling a crowd.” Director-writer Paul Feig recalled working “with Belzer back in the 90s as an actor and he was such a lovely, funny guy. We laughed the entire time. A huge talent. Thanks for sharing it with all of us, Richard.”
Read below for more tributes to the late Belzer.
Carly Thomas contributed to this story.
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