One of the funniest comedians to ever appear on television, Saturday Night Live/The Simpsons/NewsRadio star Phil Hartman, would have turned 66 years old tomorrow, if on May 28, 1998, his wife Brynn hadn’t fatally shot him in their home. It’s one of the most unsettling, truly shocking celebrity deaths in our lifetime, an impossibly sad “I remember where I was when I heard about…” moment.
There’s a new book out, You Might Remember Me: The Life and Times of Phil Hartman, by Mike Thomas, that, according to Splitsider, “looks at the arc of [Hartman’s] career — from his little-known stints as a rock ‘n’ roll roadie and album-cover designer to his comedy work with the Groundlings and beyond — as well as the off-stage, off-camera details: Hartman smoking pot, surfing, writing poetry, laughing.” Salon published an excerpt from the biography, a detailed account of the night Hartman was killed.
According to police, the most likely scenario for what then transpired is this: sometime in the next couple of hours, as Phil sleeps with his bent right leg exposed atop the sheet and cover and his left arm extended straight out beneath him, Brynn enters the master bathroom suite. There, on a closet shelf, is the metal lockbox in which she and Phil keep their firearms and gun supplies. Extracting his Smith & Wesson .38, she returns to where her husband lies. From her side of the bed, she takes aim and fires the first shot. A second and a third follow. One strikes the right side of Phil’s neck, just lateral to his chin. Another enters through his posterior right forearm, exits out the anterior, and re-enters his right lower chest. Both are fired from no more than eighteen inches away, the latter causing a fatal wound. The most damaging shot, also fatal, is fired at point-blank or nearly point-blank range and enters just above the bridge of Phil’s nose, passing through his skull and brain before it comes to rest. Death is quick, perhaps instantaneous. Incongruously, he seems to be smiling, as if in the middle of a sweet dream.
The piece then goes on to detail Brynn Hartman’s unhinged next few hours before she also took her own life.
You have my permission to watch nothing but Lionel Hutz clips for the rest of the day. They’ll help you remember that everything isn’t completely awful — only most things. Miss you, Phil.