Philip Edward “Phil” Hartman (September 24, 1948 – May 28, 1998; born Hartmann) was a Canadian-American actor, comedian, screenwriter, and graphic artist. Born in Brantford, Ontario, Hartman and his family moved to the United States when he was 10. After graduating from California State University, Northridge, with a degree in graphic arts, he designed album covers for bands like Poco and America. Feeling the need for a more creative outlet, Hartman joined the comedy group The Groundlings in 1975 and there helped comedian Paul Reubens develop his character Pee-wee Herman. Hartman co-wrote the screenplay for the film Pee-wee’s Big Adventure and made recurring appearances on Reubens’ show Pee-wee’s Playhouse.
Hartman became famous in the late 1980s when he joined the sketch comedy show Saturday Night Live. He won fame for his impressions, particularly of President Bill Clinton, and he stayed on the show for eight seasons. Given the moniker “The Glue”, for his ability to hold the show together and help other cast members, Hartman won a Primetime Emmy Award for his SNL work in 1989. In 1995, after scrapping plans for his own variety show, he starred as Bill McNeal in the NBC sitcom NewsRadio. He had frequent roles on The Simpsons seasons 2–10 as Lionel Hutz, Troy McClure, and others, and appeared in the films Houseguest, Sgt. Bilko, Jingle All the Way, and Small Soldiers.
Hartman had been divorced twice before he married Brynn Omdahl in 1987; the couple had two children together. However, their marriage was fractured, due in part to Brynn’s drug use. On May 28, 1998, Brynn shot and killed Hartman while he slept in their Encino, Los Angeles, home, then committed suicide several hours later. In the weeks following his death, Hartman was celebrated in a wave of tributes. Dan Snierson of Entertainment Weekly opined that Hartman was “the last person you’d expect to read about in lurid headlines in your morning paper…a decidedly regular guy, beloved by everyone he worked with”. Hartman was posthumously inducted into Canada’s Walk of Fame in 2012 and the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 2014.
On the evening of May 27, 1998, Brynn Hartman visited the Italian restaurant Buca di Beppo in Encino, California, with producer and writer Christine Zander, who said she was “in a good frame of mind”. After returning to the couple’s nearby home, Brynn started a “heated” argument with her husband, who threatened to leave her if she started using drugs again, after which he then went to bed. While Hartman slept, Brynn entered his bedroom shortly before 3 a.m. with a .38 caliber handgun and fatally shot him twice in the head and once in his side. She was intoxicated and had recently taken cocaine. Brynn drove to the home of her friend Ron Douglas and confessed to the killing, but he did not initially believe her. The pair drove back to the house in separate cars, after which Brynn called another friend and confessed a second time. Upon seeing Hartman’s body, Douglas called 911 at 6:20 a.m. Police subsequently arrived and escorted Douglas and the Hartmans’ two children from the premises, by which time Brynn had locked herself in the bedroom and committed suicide by shooting herself in the head.
Los Angeles police stated Hartman’s death was caused by a “domestic discord” between the couple. A friend stated that Brynn allegedly “had trouble controlling her anger … She got attention by losing her temper.” A neighbor of the Hartmans told a CNN reporter that the couple had been experiencing marital problems: “It’s been building, but I didn’t think it would lead to this”, and actor Steve Guttenberg said they had been “a very happy couple, and they always had the appearance of being well-balanced.”
Other causes for the incident were later suggested. Before committing the act, Brynn was taking the antidepressant drug Zoloft. A wrongful-death lawsuit was filed in 1999 by Brynn’s brother, Gregory Omdahl, against the drug’s manufacturer, Pfizer, and her child’s psychiatrist Arthur Sorosky, who provided samples of Zoloft to Brynn. Hartman’s friend and former SNL colleague Jon Lovitz has accused Hartman’s former NewsRadio co-star Andy Dick of re-introducing Brynn to cocaine, causing her to relapse and suffer a nervous breakdown. Dick claims to have known nothing of her condition. In 2006, Lovitz claimed that Dick had approached him at a restaurant and said, “I put the Phil Hartman hex on you; you’re the next one to die.” The following year at the Laugh Factory comedy club in Los Angeles, Lovitz and Dick had a further altercation over the issue. Dick asserts that he is not at fault in relation to Hartman’s death. Brynn’s sister Katharine Omdahl and brother-in-law Mike Wright raised the two Hartman children. Hartman’s will stipulated that each child will receive their inheritance over several years after they turn 25. The total value of Hartman’s estate was estimated at $1.23 million. In accordance with Hartman’s will, his body was cremated by Forest Lawn Memorial Park and Mortuary, Glendale, California, and his ashes were scattered over Santa Catalina Island’s Emerald Bay.
- September, 24, 1948
- Brantford, Ontario
- May, 28, 1998
- Encino, California
Cause of Death
- Gunshot wounds by his wife at their Encino, California
- Cremated, ashes scattered off Catalina Island