Phil Hartman: The Worst Tragedy to Befall Comedy
While domestic abuse is more commonly heard about when it's inflicted upon females, there are many males that have endured the same trauma. Though it's not talked about nearly as often, 1 in 10 males in the US experience contact sexual and/or physical violence and even stalking by an intimate partner, according to the CDC. They also report that nearly 56% of males experience abuse for the first time before the age of 25, with many of them being younger than the age 18. The impact of this kind of trauma manifests itself in fear, concern for safety, and symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder among other affects. This story dives into a case of domestic abuse gone too far, but the victim was a very well-known and much loved comedian and former cast member of Saturday Night Live.
Wikipedia states that Philip Edward Hartmann was born on September 24, 1948 in Brantford, Ontario. At some point in his life, he dropped the second "n" from his last name. He was the fourth of eight children born to parents Doris Marguerite and Rupert Liebig Hartmann. The couple made their living selling building materials. The large Catholic family moved to the United States when Phil was 10-years-old. They first lived in Lewiston, Maine for a time before moving to Meriden, Connecticut. By the time he reached his teenage years, Phil and his family had moved to the West Coast, where he attended Westchester High School. Not surprisingly, he was well known by his classmates as the class clown.
Being from such a large family, Phil didn't find affection so easily at home. There were seven other children in the house, not to mention the fact that his parents worked full-time. A quote from Phil found on Wikipedia states, "I suppose I didn't get what I wanted out of my family life, so I started seeking love and attention elsewhere."
After high school graduation, he attended Santa Monica City College, where he studied art. He dropped out in 1969, though to be a roadie with a rock band. He returned to school in 1972, studying graphic design at California State University. From there, he developed and operated his own graphic art business and did quite well for himself. He created more than 40 album covers for bands like Poco and America. He also created the logo and advertised for Crosby, Stills, & Nash. He had an undeniable talent for art as well as being able to make people laugh.
While working alone as a graphic artist, Phil would often amuse himself with "flights of voice fantasies." Looking for a more social outlet for his talents, he stumbled across the California-based improvisational group, The Groundlings in 1975. While watching a performance one night, he impulsively jumped on stage and stunned the cast with his abilities. According to Biography, comedian and founding member of The Groundlings, Tracy Newman later told ABC, "I never saw an audience member come up with that kind of excitement and energy...it was like a hurricane hit that stage, and I mean in a good way." The Groundlings were so impressed by him that he was invited to travel with them while still taking classes with them in L.A. Phil formally joined the group in 1979 after redesigning the group's logo. He was instantly the show's star.
His very first television appearance was as a contestant on The Dating Game in the late 70s. With his charm, personality, and charisma, he had no problem winning the game and getting the date. He first onscreen appearance came in 1978's Stunt Rock, an Australian film directed by Brian Trenchard-Smith in L.A. Just two years later, he appeared in the 1980 film Cheech and Chong's Next Movie along with friend, Paul Reubens.
Phil and Reubens joined their talents and imaginations together to create the unforgettable character, Pee-wee Herman. He also co-wrote for the 1985 film, Pee-wee's Big Adventure, where he made a cameo as a reporter. The two created other comedic characters together, but by far Pee-wee Herman was the best known. When the show began, Phil took on the role of Captain Carl. This was a role he later reprised for the children's show, Pee-wee's Playhouse. At the age of 36, Phil began to consider quitting the acting game. It was actually the success of Pee-wee's Big Adventure that changed his mind, and thankfully so. We would be without so many lovable SNL characters had he decided to quit at that point in his career.
After a creative disagreement with Reubens, Phil left the Pee-wee project. He pursued other roles and found small parts in such 1986 films as Jumpin' Jack Flash and Three Amigos. His talent for voices also landed him several voice-acting jobs. He performed voices for such shows as The Smurfs, Challenge of the GoBots, The 13 Ghosts of Scooby-Doo, and Dennis the Menace, where he voiced both Henry Mitchell and George Wilson. He also developed a strong persona providing voice-overs for television advertisements.
On October 11, 1986, Phil auditioned and successfully joined the cast of Saturday Night Live. The show was actually on the down-swing at the time he was recruited. It was Phil Hartman, along with others like Jon Lovitz and Dana Carvey, that ultimately saved the popular variety show that has become a staple in American popular culture to this day. It was fellow Groundlings Lovitz and Laraine Newman that recommended him for the show, along with the director of Jumpin' Jack Flash, Penny Marshall. They thought his talent for voices, impressions, and comedy writing was a perfect fit for SNL, and they couldn't have been more right. Biography quoted Lovitz as saying, "Whatever he was going to imagine or say was nothing you could imagine or think of. He could do any voice, play any character, make his face look different without makeup. He was king of the Groundlings."
Wikipedia shared a quote from an interview Phil Hartman did with the Los Angeles Times, "I wanted to do [SNL] because I wanted to get the exposure that would give me box-office credibility so I can write movies for myself." During his eight seasons on SNL, he became known for his impressions, particularly his spot-on impression of Bill Clinton. He performed as more than 70 characters, including Eugene, the Anal Retentive Chef, and Unfrozen Caveman Lawyer. His impressions included Frank Sinatra, Ronald Reagan, Ed McMahon, Barbra Bush, Charlton Heston, and Phil Donahue.
The first impression Phil ever did of America's most shamed President was on The Tonight Show. In 1993, when he actually met Clinton he remarked, "I guess I owe you a few apologies." He admitted to a twinge of guilt over his impression from time to time, but Clinton had a good sense of humor about it. He even signed a photo for the SNL cast member with the text, "You're not the president, but you play one on TV. And you're OK, mostly." Phil said that when doing his impression of the President he simply copied his "post-nasal drip" and the "slight scratchiness" of his voice. He also incorporated his "less intimidating" hand gestures, making his parody all the more authentic.
He opted against wearing a prosthetic nose for the part of Clinton, fearing it would be too distracting to audiences. He was right to assume less is more. With his eyebrows lightened, a wig on his head, and makeup to highlight his nose, he looked and sounded exactly like the man he was mimicking. In one of his first SNL sketches as the President, he walks into a McDonald's restaurant after a supposed jog with his secret service detail. He begins to explain his economic policies in the metaphor of eating other customers' food from right off their trays. During rehearsals for the sketch, he was told that he wasn't eating enough. In the live performance, Phil ate so much he could barely talk, prompting Rob Schneider to hand him a drink from another customer's tray.
In Jay Mohr's book, Gasping for Airtime, Adam Sandler is said to have given Phil the nickname "Glue" while working on SNL. The biography, You Might Remember Me: The Life and Times of Phil Hartman by Mike Thomas, states that it was actually cast member and collaborator of Phil's, Jan Hook that coined the name. She said that he was very helpful to the other cast members and even helped her to overcome her stage fright. Creator of SNL, Lorne Michaels said of Phil, "He kind of held the show together. He gave to everybody and demanded very little. He was very low-maintenance." He also stated that Phil was the "least appreciated" of all the cast members. Only ever praised for his ability "to do five or six parts in a show where you're playing support or you're doing remarkable character work."
In 1989, he shared a Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Writing for a Variety, Music, or Comedy Program with his fellow SNL writers. He was nominated in the same category in 1987, and then individually in 1994 for Outstanding Individual Performance in a Variety or Music Program. He rode the high of Saturday Night Live for several years, watching all of the comics he started the show with in his first year depart for larger pastures. By 1993, Phil was the only one left from his very first year on the show. New talent had come in, like Mike Myers, David Spade, and Adam Sandler. Wikipedia quotes Phil as saying that he felt "like an athlete who's watched all his World Series teammates get traded off into other directions...It was hard to watch them leave because I sort of felt we were all part of the team that saved the show."
It was the cast turnover that drove Phil to finally leave from SNL in 1994. He felt that show was "getting less sophisticated." He didn't think that his style of humor matched with what he considered to be the less intellectual comedy of cast members like Adam Sandler. He had originally planned to leave the show in 1991, but was convinced to stay by Michaels to help raise his profile. His portrayal of Bill Clinton was a major part of that goal, as it was his best known impression on the show.
Jay Leno, himself actually offered Phil the role of sidekick on The Tonight Show, but he turned it down to stay with SNL. NBC convinced him to stay by offering him his very own comedy-variety show, The Phil Show, in which he would've been the head writer and the executive producer. He planned to "reinvent the variety form" with "a hybrid, very fast-paced, high energy [show] with sketches, impersonations, pet acts, and performers showcasing their talents," as written in a series of quotes from Phil Hartman on Wikipedia. However, before the show could even begin, the network deemed variety shows too unpopular and squashed his deal. He was actually relieved by the cancellation, saying he "would've been sweatin' blood each week trying to make it work."
After leaving SNL, Phil also left New York City. He returned to sunny Southern California and continued on with his career. A major part of his career that he enjoyed very much was providing voices for characters on The Simpsons. He voiced numerous characters for the hit animated series from 1991-1998, appearing in a total of 52 episodes. His very first appearance on the show was in the second season, episode "Bart Gets Hit by a Car." Originally, he was only intended to make that one appearance, but he loved working on the show. The staff wrote more parts just for him, such as recurring characters Lionel Hutz and B-movie actor Troy McClure. On one occasion he voiced Duffman, as well as many background characters.
Phil absolutely loved working on The Simpsons, particularly when he was playing the part of Troy McClure. Another quote of Phil's I pulled from Wikipedia states, "My favorite fans are the Troy McClure fans. It's the one thing I do in my life that's almost an avocation. I do it for the pure love of it." He was very popular among the staff of the show. Showrunners, Bill Oakley and Josh Weinstein loved his work and tried to use him as often as possible. To give him a larger role, the episode "A Fish Called Selma" was developed that focused on Troy McClure, even giving him a backstory.
Before his death, Phil expressed interest in making a live-action film all about Troy McClure. Many members of The Simpsons production staff were eager to help. Phil was excited about the project and was fully prepared to buy the film rights himself to make it happen. He said that he was "looking forward to [McClure's] live-action movie, publicizing his Betty Ford appearances." However, he didn't live to see his vision come to life and no one has ever taken up the project.
Simpsons creator, Matt Groening said that he "took [Hartman] for granted because he nailed the joke every time," and that his voice acting could produce "the maximum amount of humor" with any line given to him. With his ability to do any voice and impersonate any person, he was a natural voice actor to lean upon. Groening called him "a master" of his craft, and he truly was.
In 1995, Phil became one of the stars of the comedy NewsRadio, playing radio news anchor Bill McNeal. He was attracted to the show's writing and their use of an ensemble cast. He joined the show with such names as Dave Foley, Stephen Root, Andy Dick, and Joe Rogan. Roughly, every episode he was making $50,000, today worth $94,852.03, according to officialdata.org. He joked that in order to play Bill McNeal, he simply played himself, just devoid of "any ethics or character." Though critically acclaimed, NewsRadio just never became the ratings hit that it was hoped to be. The threat of cancellation was ever-present.
When the fourth season came to a close, Phil was uncertain about how things would go from there, but stated that he was 99% sure that they would be picked up for a fifth season. According to Wikipedia, he commented on the show's situation, "We seem to have limited appeal. We're on the edge here, not sure we're going to be picked up or not." Phil had previously lambasted NBC publicly for repeatedly moving their show to different time slots. He later regretted those comments, saying, "this is a sitcom, for crying out loud, not brain surgery." Even with the threat of cancellation constantly hanging overhead, Phil was optimistic about his career. He commented, "it just will open up other opportunities for me."
Phil was correct about the show getting picked up for a fifth season. Unfortunately, he wouldn't see the start of production. Jon Lovitz would end up taking his place until the show's finale.
Phil was praised for his portrayal of Bill McNeal by Ken Tucker. He said of the actor's depiction, "A lesser performer...would have played him as a variation on The Mary Tyler Moore Show's Ted Baxter, because that's what Bill was, on paper. But Hartman gave infinite variety to Bill's self-centeredness, turning him devious, cowardly, squeamish, and foolishly bold from week to week." Tucker wasn't the only one to see what Phil brought to the table at NewsRadio. He was nominated for a Primetime Emmy for Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Comedy Series for his role on the show in 1998. Unfortunately, he lost the Emmy to David Hyde Pierce.
The comedic king's acting style was a stark contrast to the man he was in real life. He was described as being "a regular guy and, by all accounts, one of show business's most low-key, decent people." Despite his "regular guy" reputation, Phil was known to play seedy, vain, and downright unpleasant characters. He liked to play the comedic villain because he liked the way their foibles were right there on the surface for all to see. This made the villains even funnier to him. He described his own character repertoire as the "jerky guy" and "the weasel parade." To make his point, he cited such characters as The Simpsons' Lionel Hutz and Troy McClure, NewRadio's Bill McNeal, and Jingle All the Way's Ted Maltin. At the end of the day, Phil just wanted to be funny, and he succeeded every single time.
Phil never became as big of a star as fellow SNL alumni like Chris Rock, David Spade, Chris Farley, or Dana Carvey, but he seemed to stay busy nonetheless. He's quoted on Wikipedia as saying, "throughout my career, I've never been a huge star, but I've made steady progress and that's the way I like it." He also commented, "It's fun coming in as the second or third lead. If the movie or TV show bombs, you aren't to blame." Phil was considered to be a "utility player" on SNL during his years performing with them. He not only held the cast together, he held the sketches, and ultimately the show together as well. He really was the "Glue" that bound the show for several years.
No matter how small of a part he was given on SNL, Phil played it happily, bringing a little something that only he could to every sketch. He didn't have a problem in the world with stepping back and letting another comic take center stage. Rather than vying for the spotlight himself, he simply offered reactions for comedic effect. He seemed to truly believe that there were no small parts, only small actors as he took any part, no matter how small, and played it to the best of his ability. A very disciplined actor, Phil would intensely study scripts beforehand. He was always fully prepared and fully in character for every rehearsal and performance.
In his discipline, Phil studied very hard for every impersonation he did, too. He would compile collections of footage of whoever he was impersonating next and continually watch them until he had their voices and mannerisms down. For every imitation he performed, he fully embodied the person. Wikipedia states that writer and acting coach, Paul Ryan commented, "what made [Hartman's impressions] so funny and spot on was Phil's ability to add that perfect touch that only comes from trial and error and practicing in front of audiences and fellow actors." Phil described his own process as "technical."
Journalist Lyle V. Harris was quoted on Wikipedia as saying that Phil showed a "rare talent for morphing into...anybody he wanted to be." Ken Tucker was also quoted on the site as saying, "He could momentarily fool audiences into thinking he was the straight man, but then he'd cock an eyebrow and give his voice an ironic lilt that delivered a punchline like a fast slider - you barely saw it coming until you started laughing."
Phil claimed to have borrowed his style from actor Bill Murray. He said, "He's been a great influence on me - when he did that smarmy thing in Ghostbusters, then the same sort of thing in Groundhog Day. I tried to imitate it. I couldn't. I wasn't good enough. But I discovered an element of something else, so in a sick way I made myself a career by doing a bad imitation of another comic."
His personal relationships seemed to be the most intense part of his life. Biography quoted Phil's biographer, Mike Rogers as saying, "His relationships would always start out very intensely - intense emotionality, sexuality - and then they would inevitably peter out. I mean, with Phil, he was always on the hunt for the new, the fresh, and he had an artist's eye for beauty." His marriages were no different. They would start out lovingly and passionately, and then Phil would inevitably end up retreating into himself.
In 1970, he married for the first time to Gretchen Lewis. The short-lived union only lasted until September 1972. Ten years later, in 1982, he married real estate agent Lisa Strain. They were married for three years before their divorce.
Wikipedia reports that Lisa told People Magazine about her ex-husband's reclusive nature off-screen, saying he "would disappear emotionally...he'd be in his own world. That passivity made you crazy." According to Biography, in another interview with ABC, Lisa stated, "My sense of Phil was that he was really two people. He was the guy who wanted to draw and write and think and create and come up with ideas. He was an actor [and] entertainer, and then he was the recluse."
In 1986, Phil met his third wife, Brynn Omdahl. She was working as a Catalina swimsuit model at the time. The two were set up on a blind date and, by all accounts, hit it off. Though Brynn was a model, she was also an aspiring actress that was struggling to make it in the entertainment industry. Through her struggles, she found herself addicted to cocaine. She was in recovery, trying to get clean when she met Phil.
Murderpedia states that Brynn was born Vicki Jo Omdahl on April 11, 1958 in Thief River Falls, Minnesota. Her parents, Donald Gene and Constance Faye Omdahl, had three other children as well. Brynn had married once before, to Douglas Iver Torfin on May 20, 1977. She did manage to bag some minor roles for film and television. She played a waitress in the Elijah Wood film, North, and also played a Venusian on 3rd Rock From the Sun.
Phil and Brynn married on November 25, 1987. After getting married, they had two children together, Sean and Birgen. Between Brynn's struggles with substance abuse and her flaring temper, on and off the drugs, their union was more mountainous than rocky. Her intimidation and jealousy of Phil's successful career also played a part in their marital discord. As Phil continued to find work, Brynn stagnated in the industry's waters. Phil's career wasn't the only source of her jealousy. She was horribly jealous of, and intimidated by other women as well.
After the birth of their son, Lisa sent Phil a letter of congratulations. Nothing lurid, simply just congratulating him for the birth of his first child. Brynn replied to Phil's letter and absolutely shocked Lisa with the response. The threatening reply stated that Brynn would rip the woman's throat out if she ever spoke to Phil again. Lisa said of the hate mail she received, "I got back a letter that was hair-curling, fury, rage and [a] death threat from Brynn. The gist was, 'Don't ever fucking get near me or my family or I will hurt you. I never want to hear from you...never, ever, ever come near us or you will be really sorry."
Lisa Strain wasn't the only woman that Brynn felt threatened by. Phil's former SNL costar, Jan Hooks, was also an object of Brynn's resentment. After their tragic deaths, letters that she had written to Jan and never mailed were found among her belongings. These were the same kind of rage-filled, envious, threatening letters that she had sent to Phil's previous wife. Every last one contained the same warning to stay away from her husband. Brynn also made her concerns about Jan known to others with jokes she made. She would comment that Phil and his costar and collaborator were married "on some other level."
Regardless of the discord at home, Phil was still a loving and dedicated father to his children. Though Brynn may have made him crazy, he was invested in their relationship for the kids. While working on NewsRadio, Phil became close with costar Joe Rogan, who encouraged him on five different occasions to divorce his wife. Phil would vent his marital problems to Rogan, but still refuse to leave because he loved his son and daughter too much to break apart the family. NewsRadio costar, Stephen Root, said that few ever got to know "the real Phil Hartman" as he was "one of those people who never seemed to come out of character." Regardless, he struck all that worked with him as a family man that loved his children more than anything.
The classically funny comedian also tried to enjoy a life outside of nearly constant arguments. He had his career to keep him plenty busy, much to his wife's chagrin. Aside from that, he loved to drive, fly, sail, play guitar, and he also enjoyed marksmanship.
With all that was going on at home, it was no wonder Phil seemed to stay busy. His relationships in the past had always devolved from intense passion into intense reclusiveness. This time it had devolved into a three-ring circus. With Phil just trying to further his career in one ring, the children simply trying to grow up in another, and Brynn's temper tantrums taking center stage. According to Biography, Phil's lawyer and close friend, Steve Small told the Los Angeles Times, "she had trouble controlling her anger. She got attention by losing her temper. Phil said he had to...restrain her at times."
Not knowing how else to handle these high-stress situations, Phil would often retreat into the couple's bedroom and go to sleep. This gave him the ability to escape the drama, but left Brynn alone to stew. In the quiet aftermath of her emotional explosions, she began to abuse cocaine again. This time, she added alcohol and the antidepressant, Zoloft for a dangerous cocktail. On many occasions, Phil had to usher his children out of the house to stay with family and friends due to her drug-fueled outbursts.
To help quell some of Brynn's insecurities, Phil tried to help her find acting jobs. Her heavy reliance on drugs and alcohol hindered her ability to work in Hollywood, though. Instead of landing jobs onscreen or on television, she landed in rehab several times. Brynn's severe substance abuse issues seemed to damn her at every turn, ruining everything good in her life. At one point, Phil even considered retiring so he could dedicate more time to his failing marriage and his family.
On May 27, 1998, Brynn went out for dinner and drinks with her friend, writer and producer Christine Zander. The two went to the Italian restaurant, Buca di Beppo in Encino, California, where Zander recalled, according to Biography, that Brynn seemed "in a good frame of mind." She claims to have only seen her friend drink two drinks while they were together at the restaurant. She didn't appear to be upset or angry at all during their visit. There wasn't a single hint of what was to come, not even to Brynn.
Upon returning home, she had a heated exchange with Phil. This prompted him to retreat into the solitude of his bed to sleep, as he'd done to end so many fights before. This only left his angry, bitter wife to drink more and use more cocaine on top of her antidepressants. Sometime before 3:00 on the morning of May 28, 1998, she entered the bedroom she shared with her husband. Without a thought or a single regard for the life she was ending, or the children she was leaving to suffer, Brynn Hartman did the unthinkable. She shot her husband three times, once between the eyes, once in the throat, and again in the upper chest. While Wikipedia reports that a Charter Arms .38 caliber was used, Biography described the gun used as a Smith & Wesson .38. The murder weapon was one of a pair owned by the couple, bought at Brynn's request after moving back to L.A.
Phil Hartman was only 49-years-old when he died that early morning in May, 24 years ago almost to the day as I write this. Wearing only a T-shirt and boxers, it was clear he'd gone to bed with every intention of getting up the next morning. Had he awoken the next day, he would've went on to make his live-action Troy McClure film. He would've started production on his fifth season of NewsRadio just months later. He undoubtedly would've continued to provide voices for The Simpsons and work on television advertisements. Unfortunately, he would go on to do none of these things.
After shooting her husband in cold blood, Brynn continued to drink for another hour. Finally, she picked up the phone, but not to call police or an ambulance. She called her friend, Ron Douglas. Hysterically, she cried into the phone that Phil was gone, but not dead. She claimed that he was gone from the house, having left a note saying he would return later. Clearly, she was trying to figure out how to cover up her crime. Douglas told her to calm down and get some sleep. If Phil said he would be back later, then he would be back without a doubt.
Brynn ignored her friend's suggestion entirely. She decided, instead to show up on his doorstep just twenty minutes after calling. She reeked of alcohol and was visibly hysterical. Knowing better than to try her temper while she was clearly intoxicated, Douglas just invited her inside. Brynn promptly collapsed to the living room floor, unconscious. Afraid that she was overdosing, Douglas quickly woke her up. Once awakened, Brynn sprinted for the bathroom, where she threw up repeatedly.
While at Douglas' house, she admitted flat out to the murder of her husband. She even showed him the gun that she'd used to shoot Phil with. Misreading the number of bullets loaded into the clip, Douglas simply thought that Brynn was hysterical and high. She couldn't have shot Phil. It was much more likely that she got so high that she thought she shot her husband.
Once Brynn was sober enough to drive, she insisted that Douglas follow her home. On the way, she called another friend, Judy, from the car. Judy took the admission much more seriously, rushing straight to the Hartman home after hanging up the phone. Brynn and Douglas were the first to arrive. After walking upstairs, her friend quickly realized that Brynn had been all too serious in her confession. He immediately dialed 911 and reported the murder.
Friends of the couple arrived before police and removed the children from the home. Sean was just 9 and Birgen was only 6 at the time. Sean told the adults that rushed him from his home in the early morning hours that he'd heard something in the night. He said that he thought he'd heard a door being slammed repeatedly.
Once the LAPD arrived, Brynn panicked and locked herself in the bedroom with Phil. As she sat on the bed beside her husband's lifeless body, she made a phone call to her sister. Police banged on the bedroom door before she could speak a word to her. Brynn hung up on her sister, and shot herself. She died instantly beside the husband that she killed. Police stated that the tragic murder-suicide had been the result of "domestic discord."
Actor, Steve Guttenburg commented after the shocking tragedy that Phil and Brynn always seemed like "a very happy couple" and they always had the appearance of being "well-balanced." He was completely shocked by the news, and he wasn't the only one. No one in the entertainment industry could believe it. Many knew of the issues between the two, but no one could've seen this coming. The deaths of Phil and Brynn Hartman sent shock waves throughout Hollywood, as well as New York. It also caused a good deal of finger-pointing.
In 1999, Brynn's brother, Gregory Omdahl, filed a wrongful death suit against Pfizer, the manufacturer of Zoloft. The Hartman children's psychiatrist, Arthur Sorosky, was also included in that lawsuit for initially providing the samples to Brynn. They weren't the only ones looking for someone to blame in the aftermath of Hollywood's most shocking and devastating incident.
Jon Loviz outwardly accused Phil's NewsRadio costar, Andy Dick, of reintroducing Brynn to cocaine. For many years, Andy Dick was well-known among those in the entertainment industry and the media for being addicted to cocaine, himself. Lovitz believed he was directly responsible for the relapse that ended both of their lives. Dick claimed to have known nothing of her past issues with substance abuse. Later, Lovitz would take back his accusations, saying he no longer blamed the comic for his friend's death.
Though things between the two comedians seemed to have died down, in 2006 they heated back up. Lovitz claimed that while dining at a restaurant, Dick approached him, saying, "I put the Phil Hartman hex on you; you're the next one to die." Lovitz responded by having him ejected from the restaurant. Just a year later, a fight erupted between the two at the Laugh Factory, a popular L.A. comedy club. Lovitz slammed Dick's head into a bar in the height of their heated argument. Dick asserted that he was not responsible for the deaths of Phil and Brynn.
Sean and Birgen were raised by Brynn's sister, Katharine Omdahl, and her brother-in-law, Mike Write. Phil's will stipulated that each child would inherit money over several years after they turned 25. The total value of his estate was $1.23 million. In accordance with his wishes, he was cremated by Forest Lawn Memorial Park and Mortuary in Glendale, California. His ashes were scattered over the Emerald Bay at Santa Catalina Island.
Those that worked with Phil couldn't say enough nice things about him. Wikipedia features a long list in a section all its own just for the praise he received after his death and the way his legacy carried on. NBC executive, Don Ohlmeyer said that he "was blessed with a tremendous gift for creating characters that made people laugh. Everyone who had the pleasure of working with Phil knows that he was a man of tremendous warmth, a true professional and a loyal friend." Actor, Steve Martin commented that he was "a deeply funny and very happy person." Joe Dante said, "He was a dream to work with. I don't know anybody who didn't like him."
Along with praise, shock at the tragedy was also shown throughout the industry. Entertainment Weekly's Dan Snierson said that Phil was "the last person you'd expect to read about in lurid headlines in your morning paper." He stated that he was "a decidedly regular guy, beloved by everyone he worked with."
In 2007, Entertainment Weekly ranked Phil Hartman as the 87th greatest TV icon of all time. Maxim named him the top SNL performer of all time. Though he may not have become a major star, he still made a big mark on the face of comedy, even if he never saw it. With his hard work, dedication, and attention to detail, it's no wonder he's still remembered as one of SNL's greatest cast members.
Rehearsals for The Simpsons and The Groundlings performance were both cancelled on the night of his death. On September 23, 1998, the day before what would've been Phil's 50th birthday, NewsRadio premiered its fifth season. The first episode titled, "Bill Moves On," finds that Bill McNeal has had a heart attack. His coworkers reminisce about his life as clips from Phil's years on the show are played as a tribute to the man that had made so many laugh, in their living rooms and backstage. Jon Lovitz joined the show in the following episode to fill his friend and former costar's shoes. On June 13, 1998, Saturday Night Live aired a special tribute episode dedicated to their former cast member and writer. They commemorated his work and memorialized him in an episode that focused purely on him.
Phil's characters on The Simpsons were retired, with the staff not wanting to find new voice actors to take his place. No one could've voiced his characters like he could. Phil had a style all his own that couldn't be taught or replicated. His final appearance on The Simpsons was in season 10, episode "Bart the Mother." The episode aired after his death and was dedicated to him. His final film was also dedicated to him, Small Soldiers.
At the time of his death, Phil was preparing for an all new role created just for him. Matt Groening's newest project at the time, Futurama, was well underway and he had the perfect voice actor in mind for the show. The part of Zapp Brannigan was created specifically for Phil to play, but he still insisted on auditioning for the part, regardless. Groening said that he "nailed it." Unfortunately, Phil was murdered before the show started production. He never got the voice the character that was made just for him. Furthermore, all Furturama and Phil Hartman fans were robbed of the experience of Phil playing the unforgettable Zapp Brannigan. Billy West would take over the role, putting his own spin on the character.
Phil had planned to appear in an indie film called The Day of Swine and Roses with Jon Lovitz. Production was scheduled to begin in August 1998. This was just one more future opportunity that was dashed away for him.
Laugh.com got together with Phil's brother, John Hartmann, to publish the album, Flat TV. It's a selection of comedy sketches recorded by Phil in the 70s and kept in storage ever since. John stated, "I'm putting this out there because I'm dedicating my life to fulfilling his dreams. This [album] is my brother doing what he loved." Flat TV was optioned for an animated adaptation by Michael "Ffish" Hemschoot's animation company, Worker Studio in 2013. A partner in the company, Michael T. Scott, received a hand-written letter from Phil in 1997, which he posted online. This led to the correspondence between Scott and Paul Hartmann and the deal being made.
Alex Stevens, a Phil Hartman fan, started a Facebook campaign in 2007 to have him inducted into the Canada's Walk of Fame. Paul Harmann jumped on the band wagon and Phil was inducted on September 22, 2012, after a long, but successful campaign. The numerous publicity events held for the campaign helped a lot towards his induction. Among these events, Ben Miner of the Sirius XM Radio channel, Laugh Attack, dedicated the month of April in 2012 to Phil Hartman. Paul accepted this, and the Cineplex Legends Award on his brother's behalf. His star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame was announced in June 2013, and revealed on August 26, 2014.
A special prize at the Canadian Comedy Awards was named for him and began being given out in 2012, during the award show's 13th ceremony. The Phil Hartman Award goes to "an individual who helps to better the Canadian comedy community." A truly fitting award for such a great comedian. In 2015, Rolling Stones named him the 7th greatest SNL cast member out of 141 members spanning the show's 40-year run.
During his time on television and onscreen, he captured the hearts of those that watched him. Whether he was showing us how to throw out our refuse so it wouldn't drip onto the rest of the trash as the Anal Retentive Chef, or trying the tough cases as Unfrozen Caveman Lawyer, he always made you laugh. His Bill Clinton impression poked fun at and reminded Hilary that there were "many things we won't be telling Mrs. Clinton." Bill McNeal's audacious, self-centered, weasely antics split sides from week to week as he would stop at nothing to further his career as a news anchor. His characters on The Simpsons are still much-loved to this day, and his talent, missed by those that worked with him.
Aside from his time on SNL and NewsRadio, Phil made numerous appearances on television and in film. His first starring role was alongside Sinbad in 1995's Houseguest. He also appeared in Greedy, Coneheads, Sgt. Bilko, So I Married an Axe Murderer, CB4, Jingle All the Way, Kiki's Delivery Service, and Small Soldiers. Though he performed well onscreen, he preferred the fast-paced nature of working on television. His TV appearances included The John Larroquette Show, The Dana Carvey Show, 3rd Rock From the Sun, and the HBO film The Second Civil War, where he played the President of the United States.
He also earned a good deal from television advertisements. A series of four commercials for the soft drink, Slice, earned him a total of $300,000. He also appeared in McDonald's advertisements as Hugh McAttack as well as commercials for 1-800-Collect as Max Jerome.
A talented writer, Phil wrote a number of screenplays that were never produced. In 1986, he started writing a work titled Mr. Fix-It, completing the final draft in 1991. Robert Zemeckis was signed on to produce the film and Gill Bettman was hired to direct. Phil described his screenplay as "a sort of merger of horror and comedy, like Beetlejuice and Throw Momma From the Train. It's an American nightmare about a family torn asunder. They live next to a toxic dump site, their water supply is poisoned, the mother and son go insane and try to murder each other, the father's face is torn off in a terrible disfiguring accident in the first act. It's heavy stuff, but it's got a good message and a positive, upbeat ending."
Unfortunately, the project fell through. Zemeckis was unable to secure studio backing for the film's production. Another project that involved Phil's Groundlings character, Chick Hazard, Private Eye, was also cancelled.
Phil Hartman was an iconic character and an entertainer for all ages. His senseless and shocking death was one of the worst tragedies to ever befall Hollywood. While Phil was most definitely a victim of domestic abuse, many argue that Brynn was just as much a victim of her substance abuse. Regardless, the crescendo of their toxic, volatile relationship robbed two children of both their parents and many loving fans of a brilliant talent. This story brings attention to the fact that men experience domestic violence as well as other genders, though we typically don't think of men as victims of such abuse. It also highlights the dangers of antidepressants being mixed with other substances and a tumultuous relationship.