A lot of people died when we lost Phil Hartman on May 28th, 1998. It was pretty much a slaughter in the town of Springfield, with The Simpsons losing prominent citizens such as faded movie star Troy McClure and inept attorney Lionel Hutz. Saturday Night Live lost any chance of seeing the return of the Unfrozen Caveman Lawyer and the best Bill Clinton that the show ever had. Radio station WNYX was broadcasting on News Radio without noted newscaster Bill McNeal, and Pee-Wee Herman would never see his seafaring pal Captain Carl again.
And, of course, the world in general lost all of the future creations that might have come leaping out of the comic mind of Phil Hartman. That’s over 15 years of what should’ve been great entertainment.
It’s even more of a shame that Hartman was such a late bloomer. He was already 32 years old when Hartman became one of the most prominent members of the L.A. improv group The Groundlings. (Other alumni include Will Ferrell, Melissa McCarthy, and Lisa Kudrow.) Before that, the Canadian native had been a busy graphic designer for record companies. Plenty of soft-rockin’ people of the ’70s had LPs for bands like Poco and America in their album collection, all with art officially designed under his real name of Phil Hartmann.
Hartman broke big after co-writing the script for Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure. He was 38 years old when he joined Saturday Night Live as a writer and cast member in 1986. Hartman was looking for exposure, and ended up as part of an ensemble mostly credited with saving the show. He spent nine seasons there before moving on to News Radio on television and some lead roles in movies. None of the films were really worthy of Hartman, but his un-produced screenplays–including a dark comedy called Mr. Fix-It–have become the stuff of legend.
Hartman certainly didn’t seem like the kind of Saturday Night Live veteran who’d die (relatively) young. He certainly didn’t seem like the kind of guy who’s perish in a sordid suburban murder/suicide–but his wife Brynn Omdahl had plenty of problems, and shot him in his sleep before killing herself in the family’s California home.
News Radio killed off Bill McNeal with a heart attack. The Simpsons respectfully retired Hartman’s voice characters. Futurama lost the original intended voice of Zap Brannigan, and the lead character of Fry was given the first name of Phillip in Hartman’s honor. The world in general has remained really bummed out. So here are a few clips of classic Phil to mark what should have been his 65th birthday. They’re why people will be explaining their kids to Hartman for a few more generations to come. Someday, they won’t have to explain why Andy Dick is still alive…