Remembering Richard Belzer, Who Helped Connect Every TV Series Ever Made

He played one of the most singular characters on TV

Richard Belzer
Richard Belzer and friend, 2007.
Brian Ach/WireImage for Entertainment Weekly Magazine

An era of television history came to an end on Sunday with the death of actor and comedian Richard Belzer at the age of 78. He had a decades-long career that made him a ubiquitous presence on screens small and large. He also accomplished a feat that few others in his profession had done – at least before the days of the franchisification of nearly every form of media. Belzer’s performance as John Munch spanned telvision series, networks and genres — and may well connect every television series ever made.

That might sound hyperbolic — and yet, Belzer’s appearances as Munch appearances on Homicide: Life on the Street, Law & Order and Law & Order: Special Victims Unit were just the tip of the iceberg. Munch appeared in series as wide-ranging as The X-Files and Arrested Development. His ubiquity is a big part of why the Tommy Westphall theory works as well as it does.

Belzer’s performance as Munch was one of the medium’s most singular moments — a character who not only appeared memorably on multiple beloved series, but could also turn up in an entirely different context and mesh seamlessly with the style and tone of that work.

Some of that self-assurance can probably be attributed to Belzer’s roots in stand-up comedy — and in his penchant for conspiracy theories. He co-authored several books on the subject, including one about the disappearance of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370. And he remained defiant even to the end. As per Belzer’s friend Bill Scheft, who confirmed his death to The Hollywood Reporter, Belzer’s final words were, “Fuck you, motherfucker.”

Nearly 60 Years After His Death, The JFK Conspiracy Convention Is Still Going Strong
A few days with Lee Harvey Oswald’s lover, “researchers” and not a whole lot of masks in a convention hall in Dallas

It’s challenging enough to create a memorable character for an episode of a television series, much less an entire show. Belzer’s performance as Munch found him appearing on 10 different shows, all told. It’s a remarkable run — and it’s just one aspect of an even more wide-ranging career.

The InsideHook Newsletter.

News, advice and insights for the most interesting person in the room.