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Creator / Phil Hartman

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"I benefit from the Mr. Potato Head syndrome. Put a wig and a nose and glasses on me, and I disappear."

Philip Edward Hartman (September 24, 1948 – May 28, 1998) was a Canadian-born comedian and actor famous for starring on Saturday Night Live from 1986 to 1994,note  for his guest appearances on The Simpsons as incompetent attorney Lionel Hutz (who has a law office at the local mall called "I Can't Believe It's a Law Firm") and washed-up B-movie actor Troy McClure, and for starring as Bill McNeal on the sitcom NewsRadio. He was the most prolific guest star on The Simpsons ever.

Hartman has been consistently praised as one of SNL's best performers. His memorable celebrity impressions included Frank Sinatra, Charlton Heston, Ronald Reagan, Ed McMahon, Kirk Douglas, Jim Bakker, Jimmy Swaggart, Donald Trump, Barbara Bush, and Bill Clinton (years before Darrell Hammond would also be famous for the impression)note . His original characters included Eugene the Anal-Retentive Chef (who also appeared as an anal-retentive carpenter and an anal-retentive sportsman) and The Unfrozen Caveman Lawyer. His ability to adapt to any performance and keep the cast working together earned him the nickname "Glue" from co-star Adam Sandler.

Hartman had a strained marital life. Having married twice and divorced both times just a few years later, he eventually wed Brynn Omdahl in 1987. However, his success became intimidating to Brynn, who sought increasing solace in drugs and entered rehab numerous times as Phil continuously tried to help her break into acting. On May 27, 1998, their marriage reached a breaking point: Phil and Brynn entered a heated argument over her drug addiction, with Phil threatening to leave her (something neither of them had previously discussed or even considered) if she couldn't remain sober before eventually retiring to bed. That night, Brynn took a combination of cocaine and alcohol, entered her husband's bedroom, and shot him to death just before 3 A.M. on the morning of May 28. Three hours later, she killed herself.

The outpouring of sympathy was immense. Simpsons creator Matt Groening had Hartman's characters Hutz and McClure retired from the show (though those two characters did appear in some of the comic book stories), and named Futurama protagonist Phillip J. Fry in honor of Hartman, while Billy West took over as the voice of Zapp Brannigan (who was supposed to be voiced by Hartman). NewsRadio pressed on one more season (having his character Killed Offscreen by a coronary), this time with his friend Jon Lovitz, before being cancelled, because as his castmates put it, "Phil would've wanted us to." Hartman's loss remains deeply felt more than twenty years after his death, with many of his former castmates speaking fondly of him on a regular basis. May he rest in peace.

You might remember him from such films as...

Phil Hartman provides examples of:

  • The Announcer: On The Pop 'N' Rocker Game in 1983-84, a rock themed game show hosted by Jon Bauman. Phil supposedly auditioned to take over for Johnny Olson on The Price Is Right as well, and for season 2 of the mid-1980s run of Let's Make a Deal (losing the latter gig to Dean Goss).
  • Character Outlives Actor: Hartman's two long-running The Simpsons characters Troy McClure and Lionel Hutz lived on despite his death, albeit relegated to silent cameos and comic book appearances. His NewsRadio character Bill McNeal did die of an off-screen heart attack, however.
  • The Comically Serious: Hartman was famous for his ability to say the most ridiculous things with a straight face and never crack.
  • The Danza: invoked As Phil Fimple in Small Soldiers.
  • Early-Bird Cameo: On the season 11 episode of SNL hosted by Paul Reubens (as his manchild character Pee-Wee Herman), Hartman played one of the Pilgrims in the "Pee-Wee Herman Thanksgiving Special" sketch. A year later, when Lorne was trying to fix SNL after the network threatened to cancel the show due to low ratings and bad reviews, Hartman became one of the new cast members hired.
  • Fake American: Almost all the characters he played were American; he was Canadian by birth.
  • He Also Did: Hartman majored in graphic design in college and was also an artist who worked with rock groups. He designed the logo for Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, as well as album covers for America, Poco, and The Firesign Theatre.
  • Know-Nothing Know-It-All: He was a master at playing complete idiots with extremely misplaced confidence in their intellect and abilities.
  • Large Ham: He could rival fellow Canadian William Shatner for theatricality.
  • Perpetual Smiler: His characters almost always had a confident grin, no matter how bad things were for them.
  • The Pollyanna: No matter how bad things get, his characters almost never lost their unflappable cool or cheerful disposition.
    • According to his co-workers, this was often how Hartman behaved away from the cameras as well. He was described as perpetually cheerful.
  • Small Name, Big Ego: His trademark were characters who are extremely confident despite being complete morons, a fact which they remain cheerfully oblivious to.
  • Those Two Actors: He was often paired with Jan Hooks on SNL. Together, they played Ronald and Nancy Reagan, Donald Trump and his then-wife Ivana, along with Bill and Hillary Clinton.
    • Also was frequently paired both on SNL and in other film and TV with Jon Lovitz due to their real life close friendship (which Lovitz described Hartman as more than a friend, but rather like an older brother).
  • What Could Have Been:
    • He was going to play Zapp Brannigan on Futurama, but died before working on it. Matt Groening gave Fry the first name "Phillip" in honor of Hartman, and Billy West based his portrayal of Brannigan on Hartman's mannerisms.
    • He was supposed to provide the voice of Disco Stu in the Simpsons episode "Two Bad Neighbors", but when the animators needed to do a model change, Hartman was unavailable, so Hank Azaria took the part.
    • He wanted to do a live-action film about Troy McClure, and while it never got beyond enthusiasm, many of the Simpsons' creative staff admitted it would have been fun to do.
    • He had wanted to re-create his Groundlings character, Chick Hazard, a private eye, both on SNL and on film, but it never got very far.
    • He nearly became the announcer/sidekick for the second season of The All-New Let's Make A Deal, but Dean Goss got the gig instead, as Goss was being considered by Monty Hall to be his replacement, only for syndicator Telepictures to cancel it instead, fearing not being able to sell the show without Hall.
    • He would have been the front man for his own video game franchise, Blasto, but it never happened due to the one game releasing a month before his death.
    • After he left SNL, he thought about hosting his own variety/sketch comedy show which would have been titled The Phil Show. However, those plans were scrapped after The Chevy Chase Show bombed with audiences.


Video Example(s):


Bill's Parking Violation

Bill gets in trouble with a cop for parking near a fire hydrant. Things quickly escalate.

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