Late Obituaries

Phil Hartman

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.

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Bob Peck

23 August 1945 – 4 April 1999

British actor, acclaimed for his understated work on stage and screen. Peck was part of the Royal Shakespeare Company for many years, taking leading roles in popular performances of Macbeth and Othello. Away from the stage he was an unknown actor, until he was cast as Ronald Craven, a policeman sucked into a world of nuclear conspiracy as he investigates his daughter’s murder, in the 1985 BBC TV serial Edge of Darkness. The inventive series was met with critical acclaim and scooped Peck the BAFTA for Leading Actor. The part catapulted him to fame, but – a private, modest, family man – Peck continued working quietly. Film roles followed, including the android Byron in 1989’s Slipstream. Most notable was his portrayal of the Velociraptor-fearing game warden Robert Muldoon in Steven Spielberg’s classic Jurassic Park (1993); his line ‘Clever girl’ before his demise, is one of the film’s classics. Film roles continued – Surviving Picasso (1996), Smilla’s Sense of Snow (1997) – until his death from cancer in 1999, aged 53.

Leonard Nimoy

March 26, 1931 – February 27, 2015

American actor and director, known for his legendary performance as Spock, the half-Vulcan, half-human First Officer of the U.S.S. Enterprise in the Star Trek franchise. After initially limited acting success and character roles on series like The Man from U.N.C.L.E., Nimoy struck big with “The Cage”, the pilot for ambitious science fiction series Star Trek. The only actor to survive to the series proper, appearing in 79 episodes, Nimoy gave life to cool, logical alien, conceiving the characters iconic Vulcan salute gesture, garnering three Emmy nominations. The iconic role defined him, something he initially struggled with, but later came to embrace. He returned as Spock in all the Star Trek films, being killed off in Wrath of Khan, one of film’s greatest death scenes, returning in Search for Spock which he directed with Voyage Home, and reprised the role in Next Generation and the rebooted Star Trek. Outside Trek he continued the nerd-pleasing fare: he sang about “The Legend of Bilbo Baggins”, directed Three Men and a Baby, starred in the Mission: Impossible series, appeared twice as himself on The Simpsons in classic episodes and played the mysterious William Bell in Fringe. He died in 2015, aged 83, from COPD.

Sam Simon

June 6, 1955 – March 8, 2015

American writer and producer who, with Matt Groening and James L. Brooks, co-created The Simpsons. Initially an animator, Simon wrote for Taxi and Cheers. He served as The Simpsons’ first showrunner and was the true creative force behind the world, characters and humour of arguably the greatest show in history. He hired the show’s first team of writers, and designed characters like Mr. Burns, but left in 1993 over creative disputes (mainly that Groening got too much credit), negotiating a pay-off to the tune of tens of millions annually. He created The George Carlin Show and directed for The Drew Carey Show, but largely retired from TV work after The Simpsons. He won 9 Emmys throughout his career. Instead, he played poker to a professional standard, managed Lamon Brewster to the Heavyweight Championship, worked on Howard Stern’s radio show and was twice married, to Jennifer Tilly and Playboy’s Jami Ferrell. But for a man described by Groening and Carlin as unpleasant and mentally unstable, Simon spent much of life and fortune vociferously helping to free and care for animals, particularly dogs. After a long, public battle way beyond his original diagnosis, Simon died from colorectal cancer aged 59.

Richard Whiteley

28 December 1943 – 26 June 2005

British television presenter and journalist who served as the jovial, self-deprecating, garishly-dressed, pun-loving host of the much-loved letters and numbers puzzle-based tea-time game show Countdown for 23 years, from its inception in 1982, till his death in 2005. A fixture of local journalism in Yorkshire, Whiteley co-presented the magazine show Calendar from 1968 till 1995, where his reporting, including during the miners’ strike, was well respected. His work on the show is chiefly remembered, though, for a live piece where his finger was bitten by a ferret. But it was his mild-mannered compèring of Countdown, alongside Carol Vorderman, that made him a nationally loved star. It meant he was the first face to appear on the newly launched Channel 4, and the ‘twice nightly’ broadcasts of Countdown and Calendar saw him clock up over 10,000 TV hours, a number bettered only by Carol Hersee, the Test Card girl. He received an OBE in 2004, before dying the following year, aged 61, from pneumonia developed following a heart operation.

Renewed focus

Time for a mild re-purposing.

Think of this as a death encyclopaedia. I will write, no more than 200 words for, eventually, every significant deceased person ever. What’s significant? Well, if I think they are. Arbitrary, yes. But it’s my website. I’m British and have some eclectic tastes, so the first entries will be deaths that have had some kind of impact on my life.

The entries will be short, personal, opinionated, perhaps offensive. I apologize in advance for that.

I will keep this on WordPress for now, as I have no coding skills and very limited time. I will initially tag and list by year and then expand this if maintain focus.

Talking to nobody

I’ve been massively neglecting this project for a long, long time… and that will have to continue. University takes too much time. Not that it really matters, because its not like anybody actually reads this, is it? Anyway, I’ll write more over the summer.

In the mean time, go to some these, much better, sites:

Until some time.

Pointless luck

I’ve been neglecting this somewhat over the past few weeks, but I don’t really think anybody is reading it anyway. And this is sort of related to death. It is a resurrection. This is the full length version of an article I wrote for my student newspaper about my recent appearance on the TV show Pointless, which has been chopped and in some instances rewritten with a frankly quite vomit-inducing excess of exclamation marks in total contrast to my true style. Enjoy.

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I’d always wanted to be on a game show. Trivial knowledge, bad jokes, tacky prizes and, just maybe, big money – all these things fostered my love of that television staple. From the simple joys of Catchphrase and Blockbusters to the madcap brilliance of The Crystal Maze, I love them all.

But appearing on a game show required two things of which I am short supply: effort and courage. Nevertheless, at rare intervals I have enough of the two to actually do something. The BBC series Pointless provided an outlet for that rarity.

The show, quickly becoming one of the most popular with around 5 million viewers daily at 5:15 on BBC One, is like reverse Family Fortunes, requiring contestants to provide the most obscure answer to a question, in the hope that as few of the 100 people surveyed said it as possible. Alexander Armstrong and his information providing sidekick Richard Osman present the show in an entertaining, joke-filled style. The show is a two-person game, with four pairs competing over three rounds for the coveted Pointless trophy and a crack at winning the show’s jackpot. If you fail to make the final, you return the following day for a second attempt.

I acquired my second person in my friend and fellow Pointless fan Praveen. We joked that it was plausible we would get on – we did meet the age requirements – and so scrawled out the application form and sent it off, expecting to never hear from it again.

However, a few weeks later we each got a call to say we had been selected for an audition. “They’ll probably realize our unsuitability for TV there”, said Praveen, although I was just amazed that they could read my handwriting.

We arrived at the hotel in Birmingham and met the other auditionees. After introductions, a quiz and a mock game of Pointless (where I got the pointless Jack Nicholson film About Schmidt) we were called back in for a camera interview. We gabbled on about how we met, our preferred subjects and our ‘interesting’ stories, repeating ourselves multiple times and using no word more often than ‘er’. Finally, it was over, and we left enriched by the experience, but sure that that would be that.

Either we somehow made a good impression or they failed to find enough student nerds for the series, because we were selected. We would record on January 10th and went down the night before.

I sat on the tube, nervously packing the underground map into my mind on the off chance that Rayners Lane and Cockfosters would be low scorers. At the hotel we enhanced our confidence by wasting ten minutes trying to turn the room’s light on (you had to put the card in above the switch). And after revising with an episode of Play Your Cards Right, we tried to get some sleep on an unseasonably warm January night.

After a jarringly early 7 AM awakening, I tucked in to a fried breakfast, while Praveen (who “doesn’t do breakfast”) sat pensively, starring into a glass of juice. We got our stuff, and ventured on to the mean streets of London, making it to BBC Television Centre for 9 AM. As I entered the site where many of my favourite TV moments of all time were produced, I couldn’t believe our luck that we were there.

Luck was the word of the day.

We checked in, arrived at the green room and listened as the rules were read out, before going off to makeup, wardrobe and rehearsal. They were recording two regular episodes that day. The first would feature two returning pairs. Another student pair was selected as one of the new contestants for the episode. This was potentially disastrous, because unless they won and thus didn’t need to return for the second episode, we would have made the journey for nothing and would have to come back on Thursday.

Luckily, they won, so we could enjoy our BBC lunch and a showing of Doctors with relief. The luck continued as we drew podium four, traditionally the best podium. We went off to the studio.

We stood behind our podium and chatted with Alexander and Richard, barely able to suppress our nerdy awe. I can’t stress how baffled we were to be there.

After painfully dragging ourselves through the introductions, the game began. Round One: British Olympians with two gold medals. We sailed through with Rebecca Adlington and Steve Redgrave – neither of whom are sailors. It was the only time we actually led throughout the entire show.

Round Two: Dates of historical events. Horrific. I shamefacedly muttered ‘1066’ for the Norman Conquest, fully expecting our exit. Luckily, it said Norman Conquest, not the Battle of Hastings, so it was actually not a bad score. Praveen likewise had to go with the obvious answer of ‘1939’ for the Second World War’s outbreak, but others’ incorrect answers managed to see us through.

The Head-to-Head: Luck shone through again. Question one was some pictures of opera houses, which we obviously didn’t know. Question two was EastEnders trivia which I aced with ‘Dot’ as the only character to have a single-hander episode. We entered the decider. Government department acronyms. I knew them all. Unfortunately, the other pair went first and they went with what I knew would be the lowest answer: DEFRA. If they got it right, our dream would end. Luckily, the ‘F’ stands for food, not fisheries as they guessed, and the Department of Work and Pensions did something useful for a change, and won us the show.

In the break before the cameras rolled again, we agreed that we didn’t care what happened because the trophy was all that mattered. In fact I was so dumbfounded that we had got to the final in the first place, I passed through it in a kind of existential haze of bewilderment.

The choice of category was rather like when you open an exam paper and wonder if you’re in the right room. Dismissing ‘Populations’ and ‘British Boxers’ amongst others, ‘Acting Couples’ became the only feasible choice. Much to my disappointment, it wasn’t about sham marriages. No, instead it was Warren Beatty and Annette Bening films. Well, really it was Warren Beatty or Annette Benning, as I had to stupidly clarify.

The clock started. I turned to Praveen, safe in the knowledge that it was all up to me because he didn’t know who either of them were. I couldn’t remember who Annette Benning was, leaving me with the sole answer of Bonnie and Clyde, easily Warren Beatty’s most famous film. In a flash of inspiration I remembered seeing the name Beatty on the credits of Toy Story 3 and Deliverance. We had the only three answers we were ever going to get, so we stopped the clock and opted against prolonging the inevitable.

As I gave the answers to Alexander I realized before it was too late that the Beatty in Toy Story 3 and probably Deliverance was the entirely unrelated Ned. But it was too late. Despite being the most taciturn person I know, I spouted two inevitable 100s before I could stop myself. Amazingly, Bonnie and Clyde dropped to the tantalizing low of 7, but the Endemol bank transfer of our dreams was not to be.

We didn’t care. We somehow got to be on TV, on one of our favourite shows, we got to meet Alexander and Richard, and, oh yeah, we won the coveted Pointless trophy.

It was an experience I would recommend to anyone, great fun, with some lovely people. And it will also take pride of place on my otherwise gap-intensive CV.

Obituary: Simon MacCorkindale

Simon MacCorkindale is the subject of another of my Wikipedia articles, although this one is apparently not good enough to be a Good Article.

Image courtesy of What’s on Magazine

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Simon MacCorkindale reached the cusp of Hollywood stardom only to, as so many do, not quite make it. Nevertheless, he enjoyed leading roles in film, theatre and above all television, in the UK, the US and Canada, as well success away from the screen, until his death from bowel cancer on October 14, 2010, aged 58.

MacCorkindale, the son of Mary and RAF Group Captain Peter, was born in 1952 in Ely, Cambridgeshire, England. His father’s post entailed a childhood of movement; his lack of settled location curtailed much hope of friends and led to what MacCorkindale termed an “independent” childhood.

They eventually settled, which allowed MacCorkindale to attend Haileybury and Imperial Service College in Hertfordshire from 1965–1970. He was Head Boy. A career following his father beckoned, but his eyesight was not good enough for the air force. His next move was obvious: theatre direction.

A fan of the theatre since his early years – he wrote a play aged eight which despite “requir[ing] an enormous cast and a considerable amount of rum drinking” was never produced – MacCorkindale had worked both on and off stage throughout his education. He attended Studio 68 drama school at the Theatre of Arts in London and there decided to take acting classes as well, so that he would have a better appreciation of the thespians he hoped to direct. Developing a taste for walking the boards himself, it was this path he chose to follow “until [he] felt confident enough to” direct “a seasoned performer”.

His parents were less than keen on this career choice, but they softened their opposition once he introduced them to Sir John Mills, who certainly had made a success of it. MacCorkindale promised to get a more secure job if neither acting nor direction was sustaining him.

The roles soon came however. Starting out in theatre, his first professional stage role arrived in a 1973 run of A Bequest to the Nation at the Belgrade Theatre in Coventry. His West End debut was a 1974 production of Pygmalion in which he played the minor role of “Sarcastic Bystander”. As theatre roles continued, it was television which would provide him the greatest visibility. Roles in Hawkeye The Pathfinder, Within These Walls and Sutherland’s Law, were followed by parts in two of the most acclaimed miniseries of all-time. In I, Claudius, MacCorkindale played Augustus’ grandson Lucius Caesar and played the similarly named Lucius in Franco Zeffierlli’s Jesus of Nazareth in 1977.

As his profile began to rise, his big break came aged 25 with the 1978 adaptation of Agatha Christie’s Poirot classic Death on the Nile. Starring alongside such luminaries as Peter Ustinov, Mia Farrow, Maggie Smith and Bette Davis, MacCorkindale played Simon Doyle, husband of the story’s primary murder victim. The role won him the London Evening Standard Film Award for Most Promising Newcomer.

“There was a feeling of being in awe of these people but I had a certain amount of pioneer courage, so I didn’t let it get to me,” he commented of the part. “But there were days when I thought, ‘I’m about to do a scene with this cinema legend, am I up to it?’ But people were very gracious. I was never the whipping boy because I was less experienced.”

The role of Arthur Davies in The Riddle of the Sands came the following year, as did his performance as Joe Knapp, the astronomer in Nigel Kneale’s fourth Quatermass serial. Although MacCorkindale enjoyed the latter as a break from romantic roles, Kneale didn’t rate the serial or MacCorkindale’s performance very highly. “We had him in Beasts“, a previous Kneale series, “playing an idiot, and he was very good at that.”

Nevertheless, America beckoned and in 1980 he moved stateside. But with his English accent and cumbersome surname, each of whom he refused to drop, the top parts were beyond his reach. MacCorkindale was told by ABC that “they didn’t want viewers watching someone who sounded intellectual or who had an accent that was alien to their ears and, therefore, hard work when it came to listening.”

Roles did slowly arrive, but they were often minor, or playing largely to his Britishness. This was shown none more so than the role of Gaylord Duke, the Dukes’ snooty English cousin, in The Dukes of Hazzard. This was followed by the mini-series Manions of America, and roles on Fantasy Island, Hart to Hart and Dynasty. In film he appeared alongside Charles Bronson in Cobablanco (1980) and played Prince Mikah, one of the leading roles in the panned and now largely forgotten fantasy film The Sword and the Sorcerer (1982).

His chance to direct those seasoned stage performers also came, with productions of The Merchant of Venice and Sleuth, the latter featuring Douglas Fairbanks Jr., Howard Keel and James Whitmore.

1983 marked the high point of his American career. In Jaws 3 he played aristocratic hunter Philip FitzRoyce, 16th Earl of Haddenfield. The film bombed at the box office and with critics and proved to be MacCorkindale’s last major big screen role. Talk of succeeding both Sean Connery and Roger Moore as James Bond came to nothing.

But television saw more fruitful endeavours. MacCorkindale eventually secured the lead role in a pilot: NBC’s sci-fi fantasy series Manimal. He played Professor Jonathan Chase, your everyday English professor who aided the police with his ability to transform in any animal you can imagine. It may not have been the most high-brow show, but MacCorkindale broke new ground as one the first English actors to land a starring role on American television. With use of expensive prosthetics and inevitable ratings defeat to Dallas, Manimal was axed after just eight episodes. It does, however, retain a global cult following.

His longest running US role came in the legendary soap opera Falcon Crest, between 1984 and 1986. As Greg Reardon, Angela Channing’s (Jane Wyman) womanizing lawyer, he appeared in 59 episodes. The role was written for him and he also directed one episode. Although the producers were keen to extend MacCorkindale’s stay on the show, he opted to leave in 1986. “The work I was doing was fun and lucrative but not as stretching as I felt I wanted or needed,” he said. “I also was finding fault with much of the work, not only Falcon Crest, but everything. I was actually ready to quit acting and try producing so I could put myself on the line.”

True to his word he returned to England to try his hand at producing. His first marriage, to actress Fiona Fullerton, had lasted from 1976-1982, but in 1984 he married Straw Dogs star Susan George. With George he founded Amy International and Anglo Films International, producing a number of projects out of love, not financial viability. These included the 1988 Abelard and Heloise film Stealing Heaven and 1989’s The Summer of White Roses.

MacCorkindale did not abandon acting for long. He moved to Canada and starred alongside Christopher Plummer in Robert Lantos’ crime series Counterstrike, from 1990 to 1993. He played ex-Scotland Yard inspector Peter Sinclair in 65 episodes and also wrote for the series. His role of Maxwell Harding in the finale of the series E.N.G.  in 1994 was destined for a spin-off with the show’s lead Sara Botsford, but the project was cancelled. The same fate also befell MacCorkindale’s planned biopic of disappeared peer Lord Lucan.

Acting and production roles continued in Canada over the 1990s and early 2000s. These included TV films such as The Girl Next Door (1999) and roles in the series Earth: Final Conflict and Poltergeist: The Legacy. He co-wrote and directed The House That Mary Bought (1995) and produced the Genie Award nominated Such a Long Journey (1998). He co-produced and appeared in cult series Relic Hunter and Queen of Swords as well as producing Adventure Inc. He also reprised his role as Jonathan Chase in an episode of Night Man.

MacCorkindale rejected what could well have been the biggest role of his career and accepted what became his longest-running and for many his most memorable. He turned down the lead role of Captain Jonathan Archer in Star Trek: Enterprise, in favour of returning to the UK in 2002 and playing clinical lead Dr. Harry Harper in the long-running medical drama Casualty. He commented: “I can’t do sci-fi., it just drives me up the wall, it’s all rubbish and spouting that gibberish every day, was no thank you very much. The thing I loved about Casualty was although there was a lot of gobbledygook at least it was all about real life and people and medical situations and that became the challenge.”

The decision was probably a wise one, as Enterprise largely failed, but Casualty continued on. MacCorkindale appeared in 229 episodes of the show, as well as spin-offs Holby City and Casualty@Holby City, before leaving in 2008. Controller of BBC Drama, John Yorke, praised MacCorkindale: “As the star and male lead of Casualty for over six years we owe Simon a massive debt. Not only was he a fabulously iconic consultant, he was also an inspirational team leader. One of the reasons so many people have loved working with him on Casualty is because of the tone he established on the shop floor—always welcoming, always disciplined, always quietly the leader.”

MacCorkindale continued to run his Arabian stud farm in Exmoor with his wife, and returned to the stage. He starred in performances of The Unexpected Guest, Sleuth and played Captain von Trapp in a London Palladium run of The Sound of Music. He enjoyed small roles in the films A Closed Book (as Andrew Boles) and 13Hrs (as Duncan Moore) before playing civil servant Sir David Bryant in a 2010 episode of the BBC series New Tricks.

The latter proved, sadly, to be his final role. Although he continued to act as he fought the disease, in October 2010, MacCorkindale succumbed to the bowel and lung cancer he had suffered from since 2006.

He enjoyed a varied and broadly successful career, one that he certainly enjoyed. “I had an enormous amount of fun. I was very lucky. I got to work in a lot of popular shows, got to know a lot of well-known people and as a result I got into that whole A-list circle. I went to some extraordinary parties, made a name for myself and managed to make it last for 30 years. I’m a lucky bunny.”

He is survived by his wife Susan George. The two had no children.

Simon Charles Pendered MacCorkindale – Born: February 12, 1952, Ely Cambridgeshire, England; Died: October 14, 2010, London, England

Obituary: Phil Hartman

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

The first obituary I decided to write wasn’t a particularly difficult choice. As a huge fan of The Simpsons, Phil has long been one of my favourite actors. He has stolen the show in everything I have ever seen him in. The trouble with that, though, is that The Simpsons is pretty much the only thing I have seen (well, heard) him in that I haven’t looked up on YouTube first. I’m British, so bar The Simpsons and a few of his more prominent films (Small Soldiers and Jingle All the Way in particular) it is pretty hard to find any of his work on TV here. They have recently started showing NewsRadio, way, way down the listings on SonyTV, but Saturday Night Live is nowhere to be seen. Nevertheless, I have watched and read everything about Phil that I can and managed to cobble together his Wikipedia page, which is probably why this is so long.

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Phil Hartman was one of the most recognizable and talented faces and voices on US television. As Ken Tucker wrote “he could momentarily fool audiences into thinking he was the straight man, but then he’d cock an eyebrow and give his voice an ironic lilt that delivered a punchline like a fast slider—you barely saw it coming until you started laughing.” His sudden, tragic death at the age of 49 on May 28, 1998, stunned Hollywood, but his performances will never be forgotten.

Hartman, who chopped a second ‘n’ from his surname, was born in Brantford, Ontario, Canada in 1948. One of eight children, Hartman strived for attention and frequently found an outlet in comedy. This was a trait he furthered when his family moved to California, acting as the class clown at Westchester High School.

As well as comedy, Hartman had a talent for art and it was the latter he initially focused on. A brief diversion as a roadie for a rock group saw him abandon study at Santa Monica City College, but in 1972 he began a graphic arts degree at California State University, Northridge. He single-handedly ran his own graphic arts business, to great success, producing many iconic album covers including Poco’s Legend and America’s History as well as the Crosby, Stills and Nash logo.

As successful as this venture was, Hartman still pined for the simple joy of making people laugh. He enrolled in a series of evening comedy classes staged by the Californian improv group The Groundlings. After several years of training and impromptu stage appearances, Hartman became a permanent member of the troupe and quickly became one of their most popular stars, with characters such as Chick Hazard, Private Eye.

Although his first appearance on TV was a partially victorious appearance on The Dating Game – Hartman won, but was stood up – what followed were the beginnings of his screen acting career. After voice-overs, adverts and a film debut as the ‘man with gun at airport’ in The Gong Show Movie (1980), it was the child-like eccentric Pee-wee Herman who proved the most successful venture.

Pee-wee was the result of Hartman’s friendship with comedian Paul Reubens at the Groundlings. The two developed the character, which Reubens played, and it quickly became one of the group’s most popular pieces. The two developed The Pee-wee Herman Show for HBO in 1981 which was followed by the Tim Burton directed film Pee-wee’s Big Adventure in 1985, which Hartman co-wrote. The duo’s final collaboration came when the character was adapted for the children’s series Pee-wee’s Playhouse in 1986, in which Hartman played Captain Carl. Creative differences led Hartman to pursue other roles away from Pee-wee Herman.

Nevertheless, the character’s success persuaded Hartman to abandon plans for retirement. Film roles in Last Resort, Jumpin’ Jack Flash and Three Amigos! were followed later in 1986 by the biggest break of his career, when he successfully auditioned for the cast of NBC variety mainstay Saturday Night Live.

Nothing perhaps highlighted Hartman’s madcap comic brilliance than his audition for SNL. He performed not only pitch perfect impressions of people such as Jack Benny and Jack Nicholson, but did the entire routine in German. He joined the cast and writing staff. In the show’s competitive off-screen atmosphere, he nevertheless shone as a utility player, capable of playing a variety of roles in the majority of sketches. Away from the camera he was equally revered. Considered “the glue” by Adam Sandler he, in the words of the show’s creator Lorne Michaels, “kind of held the show together. He gave to everybody and demanded very little. He was very low-maintenance.” He offered guidance towards younger cast members and aided Jan Hooks in overcoming her stage fright.

Hooks noted of Hartman: “Phil never had an ounce of competition. He was a team player. It was a privilege for him, I believe, to play support and do it very well. He was never insulted, no matter how small the role may have been.” A disciplined performer, he “knew how to listen. And he knew how to look you in the eye, and he knew the power of being able to lay back and let somebody else be funny, and then do the reactions.” He was “more of an actor than a comedian.”

Some of those roles included characters like Anal-Retentive Chef and Unfrozen Caveman Lawyer, but it was his impressions that really made his name. Ronald Reagan, Jimmy Swaggert, Barbara Bush, Frank Sinatra, Ed McMahon, and above all the then-president Bill Clinton were amongst his best known. A womanizing, fast-food obsessed Clinton starred in numerous sketches, most notably a visit to “mingle with the American people” at McDonald’s, where the ‘mingling’ consisted of stealing their food in between questions about Somali warlords.

Alongside Dennis Miller, Victoria Jackson and close friends Dana Carvey, John Lovitz and Hooks, Hartman was credited with restoring the show to its former glory. He was nominated for three Emmys for the show, winning one.

While many of his co-players left and enjoyed breakout success in films, Hartman stayed on, largely at the request of Michaels and the network. After eight years and a then record 153 shows, he left in 1994, returning to host the show twice. After declining Jay Leno’s offer of the sidekick position on The Tonight Show and abandoning plans for his own variety series, Hartman joined the ensemble sitcom NewsRadio.

NewsRadio, which ran for four seasons and a fifth after his death, saw Hartman excel as the selfish, lovingly repulsive radio news anchor Bill McNeal. The show was subject to frequent timeslot shifts which hampered its ratings and Hartman sparred with the network over its possible cancelation. But nevertheless it was critically acclaimed, with Hartman’s performances in the episodes “Smoking”, “The Cane” and “Pure Evil” particular gems. He was nominated for the Emmy for Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Comedy Series in 1998, losing to David Hyde Pierce.

Hartman was prominent in adverts, for products such as Slice, McDonald’s, Pot Noodle and the Atari 2600’s Ice Hockey. Likewise, voice-overs provided him much work, with roles on Dennis the Menace (as the original Mr Mitchell and Mr Wilson), Tiny Toon Adventures, Animaniacs, The Critic, DuckTales and the lead character in the video game Blasto.

However, it was his performances on The Simpsons which were the biggest success and arguably his most globally famous role. As the regular characters Troy McClure, the washed-up B-movie star, and ultimate shyster “law-talking guy” Lionel Hutz, alongside countless other one-time characters, he entertained millions in over 50 episodes between 1991 and 1998. With vocal intonation alone, he was able to turn a mediocre line into one of an episode’s most memorable, with his performances in the classic episodes “Marge in Chains” and “A Fish Called Selma” showing just the tip of his comic prowess. His performance as smooth-talking monorail conman Lyle Lanley in “Marge vs. the Monorail” was probably his best performance:

Lanley: Hello little girl. Wondering if your dolly can ride the Monorail for free?
Lisa: Hardly. I’d like you to explain why we should build a mass-transit system in a small town with a centralised population.
Lanley: Ha ha…young lady, that’s the most intelligent question I’ve ever been asked.
Lisa: Really?
Lanley: Oh, I could give you an answer, but the only ones who would understand it would be you and me…and that includes your teacher.
Lisa: <giggles>
Lanley: Next question…You there, eating the paste.

After small roles in many films including Blind Date (1987), Quick Change (1990), Coneheads, So I Married an Axe Murderer (1993), Greedy and The Pagemaster (1994) his first starring role came as lawyer Gary Young opposite Sinbad in 1995’s Houseguest. This was followed with the major role of Major Colin Thorn in Steve Martin’s adaptation of Sgt. Bilko (1996). Although none of his entries on the silver screen were themselves especially acclaimed, Hartman’s performance was often considered a stand-out. In Jingle All the Way (1996) he excelled as sleazy wife-coveting super-dad divorcee Ted Maltin, despite a muddled script and other cast members including Arnold Schwarzenegger and a pre-Anakin Skywalker Jake Lloyd. It was a role that epitomized his tendency to play the selfish “jerky guy” character, as he called it, a trait influenced by Bill Murray.

As much as his characters were jerks, this couldn’t have been further from his own personality. An incredibly down-to-earth, modest, private, family man who enjoyed nothing more than sailing, flying and drawing with his children. In 1996, Hartman described himself in an interview with the Orange Coast Magazine as “an everyday person who’s been thrust into this world and this lifestyle and this level of income, way beyond my wildest imagination.” In interviews and talk-show appearances, he came across as a shy man, who in the words of his NewsRadio co-star Stephen Root as “one of those people who never seemed to come out of character.”

Hartman was married three times, firstly to Gretchen Lewis in 1970. They divorced sometime later and Hartman married estate agent Lisa Strain in 1982. Three years later they divorced and in 1987, Hartman married the model and aspiring actress Brynn Omdahl. They had two children, Sean and Birgen.

Hartman’s death has been well documented elsewhere. Leaving speculation to a minimum, it seems evident that his marriage with Brynn became increasingly fractured, largely due to her increasing envy of her husband’s success and return to substance abuse. After the pair argued, in the early hours of May 28, 1998, Brynn shot and killed her husband. An unhealthy mix of alcohol, cocaine and anti-depressants was the likely trigger. Several hours later, Brynn committed suicide.

Tributes to Hartman swept Hollywood, and over a decade on he is still mourned deeply. NewsRadio returned for a fifth and final season, with Lovitz replacing Hartman but inevitably without the same spark. The role of Shatner-esque, incompetent ship captain Zapp Brannigan in the upcoming series Futurama was recast to Billy West. His final major works, the voice of the cat Jiji in the English dub of Kiki’s Delivery Service and tech-obsessed neighbour Phil Fimple in Small Soldiers, were released posthumously. He also left numerous unproduced screenplays and undeveloped ideas, ranging from proposed comedy horror Mr. Fix-It, to live-action Chick Hazard and Troy McClure films.

Philip Edward Hartman (Hartmann) – Born: September 24, 1948, Brantford, Ontario, Canada; Died: May 28, 1998, Encino, Los Angeles, California, United States