Richard Belzer, comedian and ‘Law & Order’ actor, dies at 78

Richard Belzer, the beloved standup comedian and actor who portrayed curmudgeonly Detective John Munch for decades in the “Law & Order” franchise, has died, according to multiple reports. He was 78.

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Belzer’s longtime manager, Eric Gardner, confirmed to CNN that he “passed away peacefully” early Sunday morning. A longtime friend, writer Bill Scheft, told The Hollywood Reporter that the actor died at his home in Bozouls in France after dealing with several health issues. He was surrounded with family at the time of his death, Scheft told Fox News Digital.

Belzer’s cause of death was not immediately released.

News of the actor’s death was first shared on social media Sunday by Laraine Newman, an original cast member on “Saturday Night Live” who worked with Belzer from the mid-’70s through the ‘80s, according to TMZ.

“I’m so sad to hear of Richard Belzer’s passing,” Newman wrote. “I loved this guy so much.”

She remembered Belzer as “one of the funniest people ever” and “a master at crowd work.”

Belzer’s cousin, Henry Winkler, also paid tribute to the actor on Twitter.

“Rest in peace Richard,” he wrote.

Belzer was legendary in the New York comedy scene in the ‘70s and ‘80s, Rolling Stone reported. He was the first warm-up act chosen for the audience of “Saturday Night Live,” according to AARP.

In the early 1990s, he landed the role of Munch. The character first appeared on NBC’s “Homicide: Life on the Street” in January 1993 and went on to appear in several “Law & Order” spin-offs and other shows, including “The X-Files,” “The Wire,” “Arrested Development” and “30 Rock,” according to CNN.

In a statement obtained by Variety, “Law & Order” creator Dick Wolf called Munch “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 Tom (Fontana) that I wanted to make him one of the original characters on ‘SVU.’ The rest is history,” he told Variety. “Richard brought humor and joy into all our lives, was the consummate professional and we will all miss him very much.”

Belzer never auditioned to play Munch but was brought in to read for the part after executive producer Barry Levinson heard him on “The Howard Stern Show,” The Associated Press reported.

“I would never be a detective. But if I were, that’s how I’d be,” he once said, according to the AP. “They write to all my paranoia and anti-establishment dissidence and conspiracy theories. So it’s been a lot of fun for me. A dream, really.”

Belzer retired the role in 2013, CNN reported, though he reprised it for an appearance in “Law & Order: SVU” in 2016, according to Entertainment Weekly.

Friends and fans took to social media to remember Belzer.

Belzer is survived by his wife, Harlee McBride, and his stepdaughters, Jessica and Bree, according to ET Online.