Philip “Phil” Hartmann was a Canadian actor/comedian most famous for his stint on Saturday Night Live and starring on NewsRadio. In 1998, he tragically lost his life when he was murdered by his wife Brynn. Here’s what you need to know about his life and his untimely death.
1. Brynn and Phil Married in 1987
According to a CBS News profile, Hartman was born in 1948 and raised in Ontario, Canada, until his family came to the United States in the late 1950s. Phil was the fourth of eight siblings born to Doris Marguerite Wardell and Rupert Loebig Hartmann (Phil dropped the second “N” when he figured out his stage name). The family eventually made their way to the West Coast where he attended Westchester High School in Los Angeles and later Cal State-Northridge for college.
He once said that he developed his comedic talent because he was one of so many siblings.
“I’m from a large family; I’m a middle child,” he said, according to CBS News. “I suppose I didn’t get what I wanted out of my family life, so I started seeking love and attention elsewhere.”
During college, Hartman married Gretchen Lewis, but they divorced in 1972. Then he married Lisa Strain in 1982; they divorced three years later. In 1986, he met model Brynn Omdahl on a blind date, according to People magazine. They married in 1987.
3. Brynn Murdered Phil and Then Turned the Gun on Herself
On the night of May 28, 1998, Brynn shot and killed Phil by shooting him while he slept. At the time, the Los Angeles Times reported that when police arrived, the Hartmans’ 9-year-old son, Sean, was running out of the house. The police escorted him to safety and as they were getting daughter Birgen, 6, out of the home, they heard a single gunshot, which was Brynn shooting herself in their bedroom.
The police said they found Phil lying in his bed in a pool of blood. He had been shot three times. LAPD spokesman Lt. Anthony Alba said that Phil “had been dead for a while” by the time they got there.
“We know for sure [Brynn Hartman] inflicted her own gunshot wound, and she apparently shot herself as the officers were in the house. Mr. Hartman had been dead for a while. He did not die at the same time that Mrs. Hartman apparently killed herself,” read the official statement from the department.
3. Their Children Were Raised by Brynn’s Sister
Phil and Brynn’s son Sean was born in 1989 and their daughter Birgen was born in 1992. After their parents’ deaths, they were raised by their mother’s sister, Katharine, and her husband, Mike Wright, in Eau Claire, Wisconsin. According to the ABC special The Last Days of Phil Hartman, they were raised under a different last name to try to shield them from the media.
According to a CBS News report for the 15th anniversary of Hartman’s death, initially, Phil’s family balked at the idea of Brynn’s family raising his kids, but that was what Brynn and Phil had put in their wills. Phil’s brother John told CBS he had to make his family see that it was not Brynn’s family’s fault.
“I started with my mother. And said, ‘Ma, we have to do the right thing here. These people did not kill Phil. And they’re good people.’ I was trying to keep the two families as one.”
And a spokesman for Brynn’s brother Greg and sister Katharine, told the LA Times, “This a situation that occurred that redefines tragedy in every conceivable way. There are two very young children and their needs must be attended to.”
4. Brynn Had Anger Issues and Possibly a Drug Problem
Following the murder-suicide, Steve Small, an attorney who had handled Hartman’s divorces, told the Los Angeles Times that Brynn had an anger problem.
“She had trouble controlling her anger,” said Small. “She got attention by losing her temper Phil said he had to . . . restrain her at times.” Small also said that the Hartmans had temporarily separated on more than one occasion.
But Hartman’s ex-wife Lisa Strain, with whom he had remained friends, told the paper, “He always talked about his children, and how he and Brynn were working it out.”
In the ABC News special, Brynn’s brother said that his sister “did too much cocaine,” and Jon Lovitz, a friend of Hartman’s who replaced him on NewsRadio, blamed co-star Andy Dick for getting Brynn back on cocaine before the murder-suicide.
In a 2007 CBS News interview, Lovitz said, “Phil told me that they had a Christmas party and Andy was doing cocaine and he gave it to Phil’s wife Brynn, who had been sober for 10 years.”
So when Dick told Lovitz on set that he “shouldn’t be here,” Lovitz fired back, “Well, I wouldn’t be here if you hadn’t given Brynn coke in the first place,” which led to an on-set altercation between the two. They eventually made up, but there was another incident where Dick was making jokes about a “Phil Hartman hex,” and Lovitz “smashed his back and his head into the bar.” He told CBS that he would have kept going but the doorman broke them up.
5. Hartman Received a Posthumous Walk of Fame Star
In August 2014, Hartman was awarded a posthumous star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. His brother John accepted the honor on Phil’s behalf. Hartman’s former SNL co-stars Lovitz and Kevin Nealon were on hand to speak about their late friend. Hartman’s longtime agent, Betty Fanning McCann, was also there to honor him.
“Phil Hartman was very loved by Hollywood and we are thrilled that he is being honored with his own star. This man made millions laugh for years and will always be treasured,” said Leron Gubler, Hollywood Chamber of Commerce President and CEO, at the time.
“There’s so much to say about this man, so deserving of this recognition … funny and respected among his peers,” said Nealon during the ceremony, adding, “He was pure funny, he was a smart improviser and his nickname was ‘Glue’ because he held the sketches together. If one of us messed up, he covered for us … he was brilliant.”
The Last Days of Phil Hartman is being rebroadcast Friday, May 1 at 9 p.m. ET/PT on ABC.