Det. John Munch is a fictional character played by actor Richard Belzer. Munch first appeared on Homicide: Life on the Street. Upon that series’ cancellation, the character was transplanted to Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, the first spin-off of the Law & Order franchise. He made his 300th appearance on the SVU episode “Unorthodox”.
Though his age is never directly stated on Homicide, a few clues are presented pointing to it. In the season five episode
(Homicide: “Kaddish”), Munch talks about his high school years and looks at a yearbook from 1961. In “Full Court Press”, Munch says “Going to high school was no day at the beach for a teenage Jew in the ’50s”. Because first grade began at age six and high school ended in 12th grade in Maryland during this time, it is likely Munch was born in 1944, the same year as Belzer. Munch is described, however, as being 48 years old in the SVU episode “Chat Room”. To be 48 at the time this episode took place, Munch would have been born in 1951, depending on when his birthday falls. Also noteworthy is a seventh season episode of Homicide in which the ongoing conflict between Munch and Det. Stuart Gharty (played by Peter Gerety) culminates. After a confrontation inside the Waterfront bar, Gharty asks Munch how old he was during that period of the war (1970), to which Munch responds “eighteen”, putting the year of his birth circa 1951.
SVU and Homicide also have Munch growing up in different places. He is a native of Maryland on Homicide and attended high school in Pikesville, which has a large Jewish community. Also, Munch said that he took many field trips to Ft. McHenry as a kid, which would likely only happen were he to live in the area. Munch tells Det. Olivia Benson that he grew up on the “lower east side”. Munch said to Det. Fin Tutuola in that same season that he “came back from Baltimore” after his marriage broke up, suggesting that he is originally from New York. One possible scenario has Munch being born in New York and moving to Baltimore where he attended Pikesville High School for four years.
Munch’s father committed suicide, and Munch still regrets that he told his father he “hated his guts” just before the tragedy occurred; for years afterward, he believes that it was his fault. It is revealed that Munch also has an uncle, Andrew (played by Jerry Lewis), who had been diagnosed with Depressive pseudodementia. The elder Munch is found by Elliot Stabler living as a transient in Manhattan, and is subsequently reunited with his nephew. Andrew, however, reacts badly to his antidepressant medication, which triggers a mania that results in him taking a personal vendetta against a suspected rapist/murderer SVU is investigating, eventually killing the man by pushing him in front of a subway train. Andrew refuses to plead insanity and take further medication, and says goodbye to his nephew one last time before being sent to prison. Munch is also affected by the death of a young girl who lived near him when he was younger—he blames himself, at least partially, for not noticing that she was being abused by her mother, despite seeing her every day when he came home from school.
Although Munch never admitted to using drugs prior to becoming a cop, many of his colleagues (Bolander, Lewis and Tutuola) disagree and Munch has said that he disagrees with drug prohibition.
Munch’s partner at the start of Homicide is Stanley Bolander (played by Ned Beatty), an experienced police detective with more than 20 years under his belt. The two are partners through the show’s first three seasons until Bolander is first suspended and then retires. Despite the tremendous amount of grief the two give each other, Munch respects him and counts him as a dear friend.
In SVU, he is first partnered with Brian Cassidy (played by Dean Winters), whom he thinks of as a kind of younger brother, alternately poking fun at him and imparting (often questionable) advice on life and women. When Cassidy leaves the precinct in 2000, Munch is briefly partnered with Monique Jeffries (played by Michelle Hurd), and then withOdafin Tutuola (played by rapper Ice-T). He and the gruff, uncompromising Tutuola get off to a rough start, but gradually came to like and respect each other, after Munch is shot in the buttocks by a suspect during a trial, but lives; the dialogue he shares with Tutuola in the hospital demonstrates the regard and respect the characters have gained for one another. When Tutuola gets frustrated over a potential witness being unable to testify due to relapsing on heroin, Munch mentions a former partner who took cases that personally—and who eventually committed suicide as a result.
In Homicide, along with Tim Bayliss (played by Kyle Secor) and Meldrick Lewis (played by Clark Johnson), Munch is co-owner of “The Waterfront”, a bar located across the street from their Baltimore police station. In the episode “Took” from the fifth and final season of The Wire, Munch makes a small cameo in which he refers to owning The Waterfront in the past-tense. In the crumbling economy of the country, he talks about wanting to buy a bar again in New York.