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Phil Hartman was a Canadian-American actor and comedian best known for his time on late night sketch comedy show Saturday Night Live. Phil played Bill McNeal for four seasons until his death in 1998.

Early Life[]

Philip Edward Hartmann was born on September 24, 1948 in Brantford, Ontario, Canada as the fourth of eight children to Rupert Hartmann and Doris Wardell. The Hartmanns moved to the United States in 1958 when Phil was ten years old. The family initially lived in Maine before moving to Connecticut then finally California. Phil attended Westchester High School where he was voted class clown. Following high school, Phil studied art at the Santa Monica City College but dropped out in 1969 to become a roadie for a rock band. He returned to school three years later in 1972 and studied graphic arts at California State University, Northridge.

Career[]

Following graduation from college, Phil started his own graphic arts business which he operated on his own. He created over 40 album covers for bands such as Poco and America and he created the advertising logo for Crosby, Stills & Nash. 

In 1975, Phil joined the improvisational comedy group The Groundlings. During this time, Phil would repeatedly go on auditions and occasionally make appearances in commercials. During his time with The Groundlings, Phil collaborated with fellow comedian Paul Rubens and the two created the iconic character Pee Wee Herman, and they developed The Pee Wee Herman Show which became a television series and a movie. Phil eventually had a falling out with Paul and he decided to move on pursue other projects. Phil had also started receiving voice over work in shows such as The Smurfs, Challenge of The GoBots, The 13 Ghosts of Scooby-Doo and Dennis the Menace.

In 1986, Phil joined the cast of Saturday Night Live. On Saturday Night Live, Phil had become known by his costars as “The Glue” for his ability to be able to hold sketches together. Phil also became known for his impressions of famous people such as Bill Clinton and Donald Trump. Phil was also a writer on SNL and Phil, along with other writers, won an Emmy for their work in 1986. During his time on SNL, Phil started voicing characters in the long running animated series The Simpsons, his two most notable characters being Troy McClure and Lionel Hutz.

Phil appeared in a number of movies as well, such as Coneheads, So I Married An Ax Murderer, Greedy, Houseguest, Sgt. Bilko, Jingle All The Way and Small Soldiers. He also voiced an air conditioner in the animated movie The Brave Little Toaster, and he also voiced Jiji in Disney’s English dub of Kiki’s Delivery Service.

Phil left SNL in 1994 and moved back to Los Angeles, California and starred in the NBC sitcom News Radio as Bill McNeal.

Personal Life[]

Phil was married a total of three times. His first marriage came in 1970 at the age of 22 to a 19-year-old named Gretchen Lewis. The marriage ended for unknown reasons in divorce two years later in 1972.

Ten years later, Phil remarried to Lisa Strain in 1982. Phil’s relationship with Lisa didn’t work out because according to Lisa, Phil would emotionally withdraw, and the marriage ended in 1985. Phil and Lisa would try to rekindle their relationship but quickly broke it off afterwards.

In 1986, Phil, who was still an aspiring actor at the time, went on a blind date with a swimsuit model, Brynn Omdahl, who also wanted to make it in show business like Phil. Shortly after the two started dating, Phil was offered a spot on Saturday Night Live and he asked Brynn to move with him to New York. Brynn agreed and she left behind her modeling career to support Phil. The couple got married in a small ceremony without family in New York City on November 25, 1987. The couple had two children; Sean Edward Hartman (b. June 17, 1988) and Birgen Anika Hartman (b. February 8, 1992).

According to friends, Phil and Brynn had a combative relationship. Brynn was reportedly intimidated and jealous of her husband’s success and frustrated that she couldn’t find any success of her own. What caused more strain on the marriage was Brynn’s reliance on alcohol and other drugs, causing Brynn to enter into rehab several times. Phil even considered retiring from his career to save his marriage, but neither wanted a divorce.

In his spare time, Phil enjoyed driving, flying, sailing, marksmanship and playing the guitar.

Death[]

In the late afternoon of May 27, 1998, while their children were left in the care of nannies, Phil had spent part of the night at his rented hanger where he kept his boats and cars while Brynn had gone to the restaurant, Buca di Beppo, with Christine Zander. Following their return home, it is speculated that the couple had an argument before Phil had gone to sleep. Sometime before 3 AM Pacific daylight Time on May 28, while Phil was still sleeping, Brynn had entered their bedroom and shot Phil twice in the head and once in the chest with a .38 caliber handgun killing Phil instantly. Phil was 49 years old.

Brynn had left the home and drove to the home of her friend Ron Douglas and confessed to the murder but he initially did not believe her. The two drove back to the Hartman house in separate cars. Upon arriving at the house and witnessing Phil’s dead body, Ron had called 911 at 6:20 AM. When the police arrived, they tried to coax Brynn into leaving the house as Brynn had already locked herself in the bedroom with Phil’s body. As the police were removing Phil and Brynn’s daughter Birgen from the house, Brynn laid down next to Phil and committed suicide by shooting herself in the mouth. Brynn was 40 years old. An autopsy report would later reveal that Brynn had cocaine, alcohol and the antidepressant drug Zoloft in her system.

Aftermath[]

Following the Hartmans’ deaths, their bodies were cremated and Phil’s remains were scattered over Catalina Island’s Emerald Bay. 

The Hartmans’ two children, Sean (9) and Birgen (6), were subsequently raised by Brynn’s sister Katherine and her husband Mike.

In 1999, Phil’s in-laws, the Omdahl family had filed a wrongful death civil suit against Pfizer pharmaceuticals the company that manufactures Zoloft. The family claimed that the company intentionally downplayed the negative side effects of Zoloft. The company settled out of court and the money was put towards the Hartmans’ children. In accordance to Phil’s will, each child would receive their portion of their inheritance over several years after they turn 25.

Legacy[]

Following his death, his two regular Simpsons characters, Troy McClure and Lionel Hutz were retired from the show. His News Radio character, Bill McNeal died because of a heart attack and the first episode of the fifth season “Bill Moves On”, centered around Phil’s character. 

Around the time of his death, Phil was preparing to voice the character Zapp Brannigan, a character written specifically for Phil, on Matt Groening’s second animated series Futurama. After Phil’s death, Billy West took over the role of Zapp and Billy later admitted that he purposely tweaked his voice to better match Phil’s intended portrayal.

In 2007, Entertainment Weekly ranked Phil the 87th greatest television icon of all time and Maxim named Phil the top Saturday Night Live Performer of all time.

Phil was awarded a star on Canada‘s Walk of Fame in 2012 and he was awarded a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame for television in 2014.

At some point, Phil’s children dedicated a memorial stone to both of their parents in Greenwood Cemetery in their mother’s hometown of Thief River Falls, Minnesota. The memorial stone simply reads “Loving Parents”.

Trivia[]

  • Phil appeared on The Dating Game in the 70s and won but was stood up by his date. He later admitted that he was only on the show because he got paid
  • It was a common misconception that Phil was related to cartoonist Butch Hartman
  • Phil was bilingual and spoke English and fluent German
  • Phil initially had plans to write, produce and star in his own sketch comedy variety show, The Phil Show, with his wife Brynn, but the plans for the show were eventually scrapped
  • Phil is seen sitting in a booth with Brynn in the opening credits of Saturday Night Live
  • Phil’s death was the subject of a season 16 episode of Snapped
  • Phil was the oldest member of News Radio’s main cast
  • Phil had described his second wife Lisa as his soulmate
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