By Allison Corneau
Farewell, Sgt. John Munch.
Fans of “Law & Order: Special Victims Unit” were thrown for a loop Wednesday night on the long-running NBC series, but it wasn’t just because of the drama’s intense cop-rape storyline.
[xfinity-record-button id=”7323295882704556112″ program_type=”series”]
It was because of the surprise revelation that beloved “SVU” mainstay Richard Belzer (Munch) would leave the series as a full-time costar after 15 seasons.
PHOTOS: Iconic TV stars
“Munch put in his papers,” Capt. Cragen (Dann Florek) told a stunned Olivia Benson (Mariska Hargitay) at the conclusion of the episode this week that featured Benson’s live-in boyfriend Brian Cassidy (Dean Winters) going undercover to investigate a series of alleged rapes committed by members of the NYPD.
PHOTOS: Hottest celebrity men in uniform
Originating the role of John Munch in 1993 on NBC’s “Homicide: Life on the Street,” actor, author and comedian Belzer, 69, went on to appear on the “SVU” version of Dick Wolf’s “Law & Order” franchise in more than 320 episodes. His cop character also popped up in episodes of “The X Files,” “The Beat,” “Law & Order” and “Law & Order: Trial By Jury,” among other TV series.
PHOTOS: TV’s most memorable episodes
Though “SVU’s” fictional 16th precinct will fete the beloved sergeant in a retirement party on the episode airing next Wednesday (Oct. 16), Belzer could reportedly return to the NBC series as a guest-star, something the actor himself would welcome.
“I’d be a fool to say I didn’t want to do it anymore and I’m certainly not bored with the character because the writing is so good,” Belzer told The Huffington Post in May. “[Munch is] very close to how I would be if I were in that situation, so it’s a dream.”
Belzer is not the first high-profile member of “SVU” to exit the squadroom in recent years. Chris Meloni — beloved by fans as Benson’s longtime partner, Det. Elliot Stabler — concluded his run in 2011 after 12 seasons.
“Law & Order: Special Victims Unit” airs Wednesdays at 9/8c on NBC.