Phil Hartman

by Gran2

September 24, 1948 – May 28, 1998

Hartman as Chick Hazard, circa 1978, courtesy of his brother John

Hartman as Chick Hazard, circa 1978, courtesy of his brother John

Canadian-American actor and writer, exceptionally talented and dedicated to his craft, yet somewhat underrated in his lifetime, now recognized for his irreplaceable comedic brilliance. An immensely private man, even at times to his family, Hartman was a performer. Originally a graphic artist who designed album covers for Poco and America, Hartman switched focus and joined the improv group The Groundlings. There, with Paul Reubens, he created the character Pee-Wee Herman and co-wrote Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure. Film and TV roles followed before he hit the big time, joining the cast of NBC’s variety series Saturday Night Live in 1986. Hartman stayed for 8 years, and was at the forefront of the show’s revival, becoming known as ‘the Glue’ for his modesty, ability to hold sketches together, excel however minor his roles, and support his fellow cast off-screen. His impressions, particularly then-President Bill Clinton, were acclaimed. He won an Emmy for his writing on the show. Hartman starred as absurdly pompous radio anchor Bill McNeal in the sitcom NewsRadio for four seasons, from 1995 till his death in 1998, which got him an Emmy nomination. He excelled at playing jerks, with stand-out supporting roles in films like Houseguest, Sgt. Bilko, Jingle All the Way, Small Soldiers and as Jiji the cat in the English dub of Kiki’s Delivery Service. His voice work on 52 episodes of The Simpsons, as shambolic shyster Lionel Hutz and pathetically washed-up actor Troy McClure, as well as one-time roles like monorail conman Lyle Lanley, stole episodes and re-defined jokes becoming his best and most enduring legacy.  One of the nicest guys in Hollywood, his life came to a shocking end in 1998 when he was murdered, aged 49, by his deranged wife Brynn, who committed suicide hours later. His death denied us a live-action Troy McClure film, Hartman in the role of Zapp Brannigan in Futurama and numerous other potential projects.