Childhood & Early Life
Richard Belzer was born on August 4, 1944, in Bridgeport, Connecticut, to Frances and Charles Belzer, a tobacco and candy retailer. While his mother passed away from breast cancer when he was 18, his father committed suicide when he was 22.
He graduated from Fairfield Warde High School and for some time worked with ‘Bridgeport Post’ as a reporter. He then enrolled in Dean College in Franklin, Massachusetts, but was expelled as he participated in student demonstrations. So he tried his hands at a variety of jobs.
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In the early 1970s, Richard Belzer moved to New York City and started working as a stand-up comic at comedy clubs like Pips, The Improv and Catch a Rising Star. He eventually landed in Channel One’s comedy group, which also earned him his debut film ‘The Groove Tube’ in 1974.
He participated in the comedy show ‘Saturday Night Live’ and entertained the audience with his wits. In 1975, he performed in the off-Broadway production of the ‘National Lampoon’ stage show.
During his initial years, he was also a popular performer on the ‘National Lampoon Radio Hour’ from 1973 to 1975. The show was broadcast on more than 600 US stations. He also co-hosted ‘Brink & Belzer’ on WNBC radio.
During the 1980s, he bagged some roles in popular films like ‘Fame’ in 1980, ‘Author! Author!’ in 1982, and ‘Scarface’ in 1983. He also found small roles in ‘Café Flesh’ and ‘Night Shift’.
His comic skills landed him the series ‘The Richard Belzer Show’ in 1984. In 1985, he hosted the late night television show ‘Hot Properties’. In 1986, he did two films—‘America’ and ‘Charlie Barnett's Terms of Enrollment’.
He was featured in a number of TV series during the 1990s. In ‘The Flash’ in 1990, he played a news anchor and reporter and was seen as Inspector William Henderson in ‘Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman’ in 1994.
In 1993, he landed his breakthrough role as detective John Munch in ‘Homicide: Life on the Street’, which he portrayed for seven seasons from 1993 to 1999. On the completion of the series, he was cast in ‘Law & Order: Special Victims Unit’ from 1999 to 2016.
He became so popular as detective John Munch that the character was included in some episodes on seven other series and in one talk show. These series included ‘The X-Files’ on Fox; ‘The Beat’ on UPN; and ‘Law & Order: Trial by Jury’ on NBC.
Despite playing the demanding character of detective John Munch, he also appeared in the HBO comedy special ‘Richard Belzer: Another Lone Nut’ in 1997. The following year, he starred in the horror film ‘Species II’, and played himself in the biopic ‘Man on the Moon’ in 1999.
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From 2006 to 2010, he did a number of films, including ‘Copy That’ in 2006, ‘Belzer Vizion’ in 2007, ‘Polish Bar’ in 2009 and ‘Santorini Blue’ in 2010. During the same period, he was also seen in a number of TV series, such as ‘Arrested Development’ in 2006, ‘The Wire’ in 2008, ‘Jimmy Kimmel Live!’ and ‘Comedy Central Roast of Joan Rivers’ in 2009.
In 2013, he did one episode of ‘America Declassified,’ and in 2015, he did one episode of ‘Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt’, where he played a character similar to that of John Munch.
His fiction debut ‘I Am Not a Cop’ was released in 2008. It was based on a crime series investigated by the fictional character Belzer. This novel was followed by ‘I Am Not a Psychic’ in 2009.
He has written/co-written four books on conspiracy theories—‘UFOs, JFK, and Elvis: Conspiracies You Don’t Have to Be Crazy to Believe,’ ‘Dead Wrong: Straight Facts on the Country’s Most Controversial Cover-Ups’, ‘Hit List: An In-Depth Investigation into the Mysterious Deaths of Witnesses to the JFK Assassination,’ and ‘Someone Is Hiding Something: What Happened to Malaysia Airlines Flight 370?’
Richard Belzer portrayed the role of detective John Munch for 23 years in 11 different television shows and almost became synonymous with the name. It was for the first time that one fictional character was played by one actor on 11 different television shows. In fact, he played the character for 22 consecutive seasons—on ‘Homicide’ for seven seasons, and ‘Law & Order: SVU’ for 15 seasons.
Three of the many books he had written—‘Someone Is Hiding Something’, ‘Dead Wrong’ and ‘Hit List: An In-Depth Investigation’ were quite popular and became the New York Times bestsellers.
Richard Belzer has been married thrice. He first married Gail Susan Ross in 1966 and divorced her in 1972. He then married Dalia Danoch in 1976; this marriage ended in 1978. In 1985, he married actress Harlee McBride, a divorcee with two daughters.
He was diagnosed with testicular cancer in 1983, which he survived.
His elder brother, Leonard Belzer, committed suicide on July 30, 2014, by jumping from the 11th floor of his New York City apartment. He was 73.
Belzer is a dog lover and owns several rescue dogs. He was associated with New York City's North Shore Animal League and Animal Fair Media. He has written several articles on cruelty to animals. He is also involved in campaigns to end gun violence in the United States.