Entertainment TV Revisit Richard Belzer's Heartwarming 'Parting Scene' on 'Law & Order: SVU' The veteran actor and comedian, who played Detective John Munch in the crime drama from 1999 to 2016, died on Sunday at the age of 78 By Marisa Sullivan Marisa Sullivan Instagram Twitter Digital News Writer People Editorial Guidelines Published on February 20, 2023 08:06 AM Share Tweet Pin Email Photo: Kristina Bumphrey/Starpix/Shutterstock Richard Belzer is forever memorialized in his final Law & Order: Special Victims Unit scene. The veteran actor and comedian, who played Detective John Munch in the crime drama from 1999 to 2016, died on Sunday at age 78, former Late Show with David Letterman writer Bill Scheft confirmed to PEOPLE. In a tweet shortly after the tragic news was announced, Law & Order writer and showrunner Warren Leight shared a tribute to Belzer, which included a YouTube clip of his last scene on the hit show. "Richard Belzer was the first actor to welcome me when I started at SVU," wrote Leight. "Open, warm, acerbic, whip smart, surprisingly kind. I loved writing for Munch, and I loved being with Belz. We sensed this would be his parting scene. Godspeed Belz…" Richard Belzer, Law & Order: SVU Star, Dead at 78 Law & Order/Youtube In the clip, Belzer's Munch appears with costar Mariska Hargitay (who plays Captain Olivia Benson) and shares some advice about her on-screen son Noah, played by Ryan Buggle. "I was worried when I left. That I'd fall apart without the job or the place would fall apart without me," Munch tells Benson as she holds Noah in the clip. "But it's been good. Turns out there's more to life than SVU." "Ain't that the truth," Benson replies as she looks at her son, rubbing his shoulder. "Well, I'm glad we both found that out." "Taught him a major life lesson," adds Munch about Noah. "Always question authority." Mariska Hargitay Reacts to Law & Order: SVU Costar Richard Belzer's Death: 'Goodbye My Dear, Dear Friend' Duffy-Marie Arnoult/WireImage Over 200 fans weighed in on the scene, which was posted on Law & Order's official YouTube page. "The look on Munch's face when he sees Liv with Noah my heart melted," one viewer wrote, while another said he used to live next to the TV star on New York City's Upper West Side. "Richard Belzer is this kind, compassionate man, John Munch. He was my neighbor on the UWS. A great man." On Sunday, Hargitay honored her costar in an emotional Instagram post. "Goodbye my dear, dear friend. I will miss you, your unique light, and your singular take on this strange world." Hargitay, 59, wrote. "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," the post concluded. Similar tributes by Belzer's famous friends also poured in. In a statement Law & Order: SVU's creator Dick Wolf described John Munch as "one of television's iconic characters." "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," added Wolf. "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." DMI/The LIFE Picture Collection/Shutterstock PEOPLE Celebrates Law & Order: SVU's Record-Breaking 21st Season with a Special Edition Laraine Newman, who was a cast member on Saturday Night Live from 1975 to 1980, also paid tribute to Belzer's role as the NBC sketch comedy show's warm-up comedian during her run. "I'm so sad to hear of Richard Belzer's passing," she wrote Sunday. "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," added Newman. Marc Maron wrote in a tribute post: "Richard Belzer died. He was an original. One of the greats, babe. I loved the guy. RIP" "The Belz… Even holding his dog he was always the coolest cat in the room," wrote Jeff Ross, sharing a throwback photo of Belzer with his poodle-fox terrier mix Bebe. Never miss a story — sign up for PEOPLE's free daily newsletter to stay up-to-date on the best of what PEOPLE has to offer, from juicy celebrity news to compelling human interest stories. After originating the role of Munch on NBC's Homicide: Life on the Street in 1993 and reprising the character in the Law & Order parent series, Belzer appeared in nearly 330 episodes of SVU between 1999 and 2013, with two additional cameos in 2014 and 2016. "It was a bit of a miracle how I got the part," he said in an interview with The Boomer Tube. "I didn't audition for it. Barry Levinson heard me on the Howard Stern Show and brought me in to read for the character." Following news of the beloved actor's death, Scheft confirmed to PEOPLE that his last words were "'F--- you, motherf---er.' " He added that Belzer died at his home in Bozouls, southwest France "peacefully with family at his side." Belzer is survived by his wife Harlee McBride, who he married in 1985. He has no biological children, though McBride has two from a previous relationship — Jessica and Shannon Benton.