Richard Belzer, Standup and `Law & Order: SVU' Star, Dead at 78

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LOS ANGELES (CNS) - Richard Belzer, the comic and actor known for his standup career in the 1970s and '80s and long runs on the television shows "Homicide: Life on the Street" and "Law & Order: SVU," has died at the age of 78.

His friend, writer Bill Scheft, told The Hollywood Reporter that Belzer died early Sunday at his home in Bozouls in southwest France after a number of health issues. Further details about the death were not immediately available.

"I'm so sad to hear of Richard Belzer's passing," actress and original "Saturday Night Live" cast member Laraine Newman tweeted Sunday morning. "I 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."

Julie Martin, a writer and executive producer on "Law & Order: SVU" and writer/producer on "Homicide Life on the Street," tweeted: "Missing Richard Belzer today. Working with him 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."

Standup comedian, actor and podcast host Marc Maron also tweeted, writing "Richard Belzer died. He was an original. One of the greats, babe. I loved the guy. RIP."

Former "Daily Show" host Jon Stewart tweeted: "Rest in Peace Belz. No better time than sitting in the back at Catch watching Richard wreck crowd after crowd...a master."

Actress Marlee Matlin tweeted: "Richard Belzer was one of the most kindest and welcoming actors when I guested on two episodes of Law and Order: SVU. His passing is truly a loss for Hollywood and I will miss him dearly. RIP Richard Belzer."

Comedy writer Alan Zweibel wrote: "Richard Belzer was as kind as he was funny. I will miss his brand of comedy that was not confined to boundaries. And will always be grateful for a friendship that lasted almost 50 years. R.I.P .Belz."

The official "Law & Order" Twitter account posted the following tribute: "Anyone who had the pleasure of watching Richard Belzer portray Det. John Munch will never forget how much he inhabited that beloved character to make it his own. Our condolences go out to his loved ones as we join them in mourning his loss, but also in celebrating his memory."

Actress Mariska Hargitay, who co-starred with Belzer on "Law & Order: SVU," shared her remembrances on Intsagram, writing: "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 love you so very much, now and forever."

And actor Vincent D'Onofrio tweeted: "Richard Belzer was always so kind to me. We met at comedy club he was performing in yrs before L&O. I was young with only one film into my career. He always remembered me. I had the pleasure of hang'n with him a couple of times. Sweet sweet man & funny as hell. He will be missed."

Belzer was born in Bridgeport, Connecticut, and got his start in standup in New York City in the mid-1970s. After several film roles, his acting career really took off with the role of police detective John Munch on "Homicide: Life on the Street," which ran from 1993-99. He then played the same character on "Law & Order: Special Victims Unit" from 1999-2013. The shows, which both aired on NBC, were among the highest rated on television.

"Richard Belzer's Detective John Munch is one of television's iconic characters," Dick Wolf, the creator of the "Law & Order" franchise of TV shows, told Variety on Sunday. "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. Richard brought humor and joy into all our lives, was the consummate professional and we will all miss him very much."

Belzer made guest appearances on a number of other TV shows, including "The X-Files," "Arrested Development," "The Wire," "30 Rock" and "Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt."

One of Belzer's most notorious moments on television occurred on his local New York show "Hot Properties" in 1985. Hulk Hogan and Mr. T were on the show to promote an upcoming WrestleMania event, and Hogan was asked to demonstrate a wrestling hold. He grabbed Belzer around the neck, but the host lost consciousness and passed out, hitting his head on the floor. He sued Hogan for $5 million and the two settled out of court for an undisclosed sum.

His feature film credits include "Fame," "Author! Author!," "Night Shift," "Scarface," "Fletch Lives," "The Bonfire of the Vanities," and "Mad Dog and Glory."

Belzer also wrote four books dealing with conspiracy theories.

He is survived by his wife, actress Harlee McBride, and two stepdaughters.

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