Phil Hartman was born on the 24th September 1948 in Brantford Ontario, Canada. He was the middle child being the fourth of 8 children and grew up in a catholic household. When he was 10 years old his family moved to the United States moving several times before finally settling on the west coast. He graduated from California State University with a degree in graphic arts where he gained some success in starting his own business and designing album covers. In his spare time he thrived in the world of comedy and joined comedy group The Groundlings in the mid 70’s. Here he made many comedic connections like Paul Reubens, better known as Pee-Wee Herman. Phil collaborated with Paul and helped develop and co-write many of the Pee-Wee Herman movies and shows and also starred as the recurring character Captain Carl.
At the age of 36 he considered quitting acting due to his limited opportunities in the industry. He later said, “As an actor I felt I couldn’t compete. I wasn’t as cute as the leading man. I wasn’t as brilliant as Robin Williams. The one thing I could do was voices and impersonations and weird characters, there was really no call for that.’ Just 2 years later in 1986 he caught his big break and joined the popular sketch comedy series Saturday Night Live. He stayed on the show for an impressive 8 series and was known to be called The Glue, a name believed to be coined by Adam Sandler, highlighting his ability to hold the cast members together throughout their sketches. In 1989 he won the Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Writing for a Variety, Music or Comedy Program for his work on SNL.
His fans and co-workers recognise Phil for his distinctive and hilarious vocal talents which led him to voice in many popular cartoons such as Scooby Doo, Animaniacs and possibly his most well known vocal appearances on The Simpsons. He appeared in 52 episodes and gained a cult following as the voice of Troy McClure, Lionel Hutz and many other minor characters throughout the series. He also made a breakthrough in his career in the world of television when he played the character of Bill McNeal on the popular series NewsRadio appearing as a regular character on the show for the first 4 seasons.
In 1987 as his fame in the industry was beginning to rise Phil married his third wife Brynn Omdahl who was a model and an aspiring actress. Although they shared 2 children together and were married for many years there showed to be strain in their relationship particularly due to Brynn’s excessive drug use and Phil’s emotional distance in the marriage which was said to be a major factor in his previous divorces. In his second marriage his ex wife Lisa Strain commented that Phil, “would disappear emotionally.. he’d be in his own world. That passivity made you crazy.” It was also well known that Brynn felt intimidated by her husband’s success and frustrated that she was not thriving in the entertainment industry as well as he was. As neither of them wanted to divorce Phil was known to help Brynn get acting roles however her drug and alcohol use could at times be out of control. She entered rehab many times and Phil at one point even considered retiring from acting in order to save their marriage.
On the 27th May 1998 Brynn went out to dinner with producer and writer Christine Zander. Once she returned home her and Phil had a heated argument about her drug use and he threatened to leave her if she kept using. After the argument Phil stormed off to their bedroom to go to sleep. It’s believed Brynn who was said to be in a good frame of mind at dinner then became intoxicated drinking alcohol excessively and also took cocaine at some point of the night. Sometime before 3:00am the next morning Brynn entered the room her husband of 11 years was sleeping in and with a handgun shot him 3 times, once between the eyes, in the throat and the upper chest killing the 49 year old instantly. She then drove to her friend Ron’s house and confessed to the killing. Initially he didn’t believe her and decided to drive back to her house in a bid to calm her down. Brynn then called a second friend and again confessed to the murder. Once Ron entered the house and saw Phil’s body he immediately called the police. The time was 6:20am some three hours after the shooting. Police arrived escorting the couple’s two children out of the premises. While police were assisting the children Brynn locked herself in her bedroom with her husband’s body. Police then reported hearing a gunshot blast. When they entered the room they found Brynn had committed suicide with a single gunshot wound to the mouth.
After his death Phil was remembered greatly in the industry with many tributes flowing through in the world of comedy and television. Rehearsals for the Simpsons was cancelled in the news of his death as was The Groudling’s performance that day. On NewsRadio his character was written off respectfully and his close friend John Lovitz joined the show in his place. A special episode of SNL commerating Hartman’s work on the show aired that same year and all of his Simpsons characters were retired with his final episode dedicated in his memory. His final film Small Solidiers which was released in 1998 the same year as his death was also dedicated to the comic’s memory. In 2012 he was inducted into Canada’s Walk of Fame and just 1 year later in 2013 it was announced he would be placed on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. Both Maxim and Rolling Stones listed him in the top 10 SNL performers of all time with Maxim naming him #1 on their list. He was known from many professionals in the industry as being a, “dream to work with, a decidedly regular guy and beloved by everyone he worked with.”