From 1986 to 1993 on Saturday Night Live, Phil Hartman delivered pitch-perfect, photo quality impersonations of Bill Clinton, Frank Sinatra, Ed McMahon, Ronald Reagan, Lee Iacocca, Phil Donahue, Ted Kennedy, Charlton Heston, Michael Eisner, Lieutenant Worf, Liberace, Peter Graves, Roger Ebert, Michael Caine, Oral Roberts, Jim Bakker, Johnny Cash, Andy Griffith, Jimmy Swaggart, Hugh Hefner, Wilford Brimley, G. Gordon Liddy, and Barbara Bush. He was also skilled at playing Norman Rockwell characters: flat, emotionless everymans completely devoid of personality. Often he'd convey the enormity of his subject's demeanor with simple mannerisms and oblique stares.
SNL: Phil Hartman as "The Anal Retentive Chef"
SNL: Phil Hartman as "Donohue"
Hartman was married three times, and his marriages didn't last long. "He would disappear emotionally," says Lisa Strain, wife number two. "Phil's body would be there, but he'd be in his own world. That passivity made you crazy. And when I'd protest, he'd say, 'you're getting in the way of my career, and this is who I am and what it's going to be like.'"
SNL: "Colon Blow" Commercial
Phil was the perfect secondary or cameo film character possessing the unique ability to draw our eyes to his during his empty stares and niche monolouges that left us often wondering who the real Phil Hartman was.
Phil on IMDB
So I married an Axe Murderer: Phil Hartman as "Alcatraz Tour Guide"
The Simpsons: Troy McClure "Smoking Partner"
Out of respect, the writers on The Simpsons retired Hartman's characters, rather than finding another voice actor. The episode "Bart the Mother" marked his final appearance on the show, and was dedicated to him. On audio commentary tracks accompanying The Simpsons DVD releases, the appearance of a Hartman character uniformly evokes heartfelt praise from the show's production staff. A number of major Simpsons players talk at length about their experience with Hartman as a rare combination of professionalism, effortless comedic facility, friendliness, and decency. Bill Oakley and Josh Weinstein stated that they used Hartman as much as they possibly could in their seasons, as they were such big fans of him. It was noted by The Simpsons creator Matt Groening, that his voice acting could produce "the maximum amount of humor" out of any line he was given. Before his death, Hartman had expressed an interest in making a live action film about Troy McClure, with many of The Simpsons production staff stating that they would have loved to help create it.
The Simpsons: Troy McClure "Pulled Over"
The Marriage and Murder of Phil Hartman:
Brynn became pregnant on their third date, and she and Phil got married. Phil supposed he was a little "obligated," to put it one way, but he settled into family life with all the gentle complacence of one of his mild-mannered characterizations. They had two children, Sean and Birgen.
Brynn was possessive of Phil, insanely jealous of his success, and exhibited hostility toward other women. She despised his fan mail, and she especially hated Phil's ex-wife. At times she made comments to Hartman's SNL co-star Jan Hooks that maybe Hooks and Phil were married "on some other level". Brynn had trouble controlling her anger, and often she tried to get other people's attention by losing her temper. The couple had been separated more than once, and at times Phil had to physically restrain her. She battled drugs and alcohol for much of her adult life, and she spent five months in a Malibu rehabilitation center for cocaine abuse. Phil began to confide in others that he wanted out of their ten-year marriage - but he wouldn't just give her a divorce. He made it clear that if she started using drugs again, he'd end the relationship.The couple's arguments followed a familiar pattern: she'd fly off the wall to get his attention, and he'd respond by falling asleep.
On May 28th, 1998, Brynn returned home from a night out drinking. Sometime before 3:00 a.m, she shot Phil execution-style three times as he lay under the covers: twice in the head, and once in the chest. She used the revolver he'd given to her as a gift. Sean, who'd been upstairs, thought he'd heard the slamming of a door.
Under the influence of cocaine, alcohol and Zoloft, Brynn left the kids alone and drove to the home of Ron Douglas, a longtime friend. She confessed what she'd done, but she was nearly incoherent and Douglas didn't believe her. He thought she was drunk. After she passed out, he searched her purse. It was only after finding a handgun that he understood. He placed it in a plastic bag, and suggested he follow her back to the Hartman residence in a separate car.
Brynn locked herself in the master bedroom with Phil. Douglas was allowed a brief look at the body, before going into the hallway and dialing 911.
Police dispatcher: Emergency operator 614.
Ron Douglas: Yeah, hi, this is 5065 Encino Blvd. And, um, I was called over to the residence. I think there's been a shooting here.
Dispatcher: OK, do you see a victim?
Dispatcher: OK, hold on for the paramedics, OK? One moment.
Dispatcher: I want you to stay on the line.
Fire dispatcher: Fire Department emergency operator, how may I help you?
Douglas: Yeah, hi, there's been a shooting at 5065 Encino Blvd.
Fire dispatcher: How many people are shot?
Douglas: Just one, and um ...
Fire dispatcher: Do you know what part of the body?
Douglas: I think around the head and the neck. I just got here.
Fire dispatcher: The person who shot him, is he still around?
Douglas: Yeah, she's his wife.
Fire dispatcher: (unintelligible) the wife shot him and they're both there?
Fire dispatcher: Is she hurt at all?
Douglas: I'm not sure. I'm trying to calm her down. OK?
Police dispatcher: Hello, sir?
Dispatcher: Did, uh, was this on purpose or was this an accident or what sir? Do you know what happened?
Douglas: I have no idea. ... She was drunk. She said she killed her husband and I didn't believe her.
Dispatcher: OK, are they both there right now?
Douglas: You're right. Now, can you trace this address because I'm not sure?
Dispatcher: All right, where's the weapon now?
Douglas: It's in my hand because, um, she brought it to my house.
Dispatcher: What's your name sir?
Douglas: My name's Ron, Ron Douglas.
Dispatcher: All right sir, we're going to get the officers on the way.
When authorities arrived, the front door of the Hartman house was ajar. They escorted Douglas outside right away. They found Sean Hartman, age 9, and removed him as well. When police returned to remove Birgen, age 6, they heard a single gunshot from the master bedroom.
There were no signs of a struggle. Hartman was found wearing shorts and a T-shirt, lying sideways on the bed. His wife lay next to him with a gunshot wound to her head. She'd obtained a second revolver.
More Phil Hartman Video Links:
The Simpsons: Phil as "Lionel Hutz"
News Radio: "Quiting Smoking"