Actor Richard Belzer, best known for his role on the beloved crime procedural "Law & Order: Special Victims Unit," died Sunday at age 78, NBC confirmed Sunday.
Belzer started out as a standup comedian and eventually found his home on the silver screen, starring in several television series over the years.
Universal Television and NBC offered condolences in a joint statement Sunday.
"Anyone who ever had the pleasure of watching Richard Belzer portray Det. John Munch — whether on ‘Homicide’ or ‘Law & Order: SVU’ — over four decades will never forget how much he inhabited that beloved character to make it his own," the statement said.
"His professionalism, talents and dedication to the craft made him a pillar in the industry, but it was his humor, compassion and loving heart that made him family."
Representatives for Belzer did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
Belzer, born in Bridgeport, Connecticut, became a warm-up comedian for “Saturday Night Live” in 1975 before he guest-starred in a few episodes, according to his IMDb biography.
He appeared in films and television shows from then on, eventually landing 10 episodes on the 1990 series "The Flash," his longest television gig at that point.
In 1993, Belzer landed a regular role on "Homicide: Life on the Street," a serial drama about the Baltimore police homicide unit. It was the first time he would appear as John Munch, a detective who would soon become synonymous with him.
He appeared as Munch in other shows, such as "The X-Files" and "The Wire," but it was his role on NBC's "Law & Order: Special Victims Unit" that made him a household staple for generations.
Munch's obsession with conspiracy theories and dry humor made him a fan favorite.
Belzer, who was in more than 300 episodes, left in season 15, with his character retiring from the New York Police Department. His last appearance was in 2016, in a brief return to assist Lt. Olivia Benson with a case.
Mariska Hargitay, who portrays Benson, said Sunday on Instagram that she loved Belzer, "now and forever."
"Goodbye my dear, dear friend. I will miss you, your unique light, and your singular take on this strange world," she said. "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 can hear them laughing already."
Dick Wolf, the creator of the "Law & Order" franchise, said Detective John Munch was "one of television's iconic characters" in a statement on Wolf Entertainment's Instagram page.
Referring to the television writer and producer Tom Fontana, Wolf said: "I told Tom 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."
In addition to his comedy and acting, Belzer was an author. He wrote two books on his own with Simon & Schuster, "I Am Not A Cop!" and "UFOs, JFK, and Elvis: Conspiracies You Don't Have to Be Crazy to Believe." He also co-wrote "How to Be a Stand-Up Comic," according to his author page.
Laraine Newman, an original cast member of "Saturday Night Live," tweeted a tribute recounting found memories of their early friendship.
"I loved this guy so much. He was one of my first friends when I got to New York to do SNL," Newman said. "We used to go out to dinner every week at Sheepshead Bay for lobster. One of the funniest people ever."
Billy Crystal tweeted that Belzer was "simply hilarious."
"A genius at handling a crowd. So sad he’s passed away," Crystal wrote.
Comedian Marc Maron called Belzer an original.
"One of the greats, babe. I loved the guy," Maron tweeted.
Warren Leight, a former "SVU" writer and showrunner, said Belzer was the first actor to welcome him when he joined the show.
"Open, warm, acerbic, whip smart, surprisingly kind," Leight tweeted. "I loved writing for Munch, and I loved being with Belz."