Remembering Richard Belzer: Comic and Crossover King of Television

Comedy Features Richard Belzer
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Remembering Richard Belzer: Comic and Crossover King of Television

Comedian and prolific television actor Richard Belzer died at his home in Bozouls, France on Sunday, February 19th. His friend, comedy writer Bill Scheft, told The Hollywood Reporter that Belzer was suffering from ongoing health issues. He was 78.

Born on August 4, 1944 in Bridgeport, Connecticut, Belzer initially found success as a stand-up comic. He was the warm-up act for Saturday Night Live back in the 1970s and appeared on the show itself four times.

Ultimately, though, Belzer is best known as Det. (or Sgt., depending on the show) John Munch, the king of the crossover. The iconic Munch, who Belzer characterized as “Lenny Bruce with a badge,” originally appeared on Homicide: Life on the Street, later going on to be in Law & Order (original flavor), The X-Files, Law & Order: SVU, Law & Order: Trial by Jury, Arrested Development, The Wire, and Jimmy Kimmel Live!—and that’s not even an exhaustive list. Thanks to Belzer, we now know that Scully and Mulder could have theoretically had a beer with McNulty.

Though he achieved success as a television actor, Belzer treated everything as fodder for his comedy. In 1985, Hulk Hogan appeared on Belzer’s cable talk show Hot Properties and put the comic in a front chin lock, causing him to pass out and fellow guest Mr. T to remark, “He’s alright, he’s just sleeping.” Belzer ended up suing Hulk Hogan for $5 million. The matter was settled out of court, and the contemporary New York Times write-up about the case is well worth a read (an actual quote from Hulk Hogan’s lawyer: “I object to bringing Hitler into this.”) Later on, Belzer joked about what happened in his 1997 HBO special Another Lone Nut, during which he also pokes fun at his testicular cancer diagnosis.

In his spare time, Belzer was interested in conspiracy theories and held that there was a conspiracy to assassinate JFK. He even turned his pastime into a moneymaker, writing Hit List: An In-Depth Investigation into the Mysterious Deaths of Witnesses to the JFK Assassination, as well as four other books about various conspiracy theories.

As per THR, Scheft said that Belzer’s last words were “Fuck you, motherfucker.” You can’t top that.

Check out Belzer’s bit “Jazz for Jesus” below, and you can search through our archives for more gems from the late comedian.