‘90s Crime Flashback: The Life And Tragic Death Of Phil Hartman

The successful actor-comedian was asleep when his wife, Brynn Omdahl, shot him three times in the head on May 29, 1998.

Phil Hartman as Bill McNeal for "NewsRadio"

On May 28, 1998, the successful actor-comedian Phil Hartman was asleep when his wife, Brynn Omdahl, shot him three times in the head.

Photo by: Dave Bjerke via Getty Images

Dave Bjerke via Getty Images

On May 28, 1998, funny man Phill Hartman was shot to death by his third wife in a murder-suicide, shocking most of his friends, family, colleagues, and fans.

According to the AP, Hartman, 49, died from multiple gunshot wounds to the head, in his Encino, California home. His wife, Brynn Omdahl, was also found dead from a single self-inflicted gunshot wound.

Hartman had many jobs before his comedy career took off. He worked for a talent management company and as a graphic arts designer designing rock album covers.

In 1975, Hartman joined the Los Angeles improv group The Groundlings after volunteering, as an audience member, to participate on stage.

“I never saw an audience member come up with that kind of excitement and energy…it was like a hurricane hit that stage, and I mean in a good way,” Tracy Newman, comedian and founding member of The Groundlings, told ABC.

“My sense of Phil was that he was really two people,” Lisa Jarvis, Hartman’s second wife, told 20/20. “He was the guy who wanted to draw and write and think and create and come up with ideas. He was the actor [and] entertainer, and then he was the recluse.”

Hartman joined Saturday Night Live in 1986. Shortly after joining, Hartman met Brynn Omdahl.

“His relationships would always start out very intensely — intense emotionality, sexuality — and then they would inevitably peter out,” Mike Thomas, author of "You Might Remember Me: The Life and Times of Phil Hartman” told Salon. “I mean, with Phil, he was always on the hunt for the new, the fresh, and he had an artist’s eye for beauty.”

According to Brynn’s brother, Greg Omdahl, she developed a drug habit when she first moved to LA.

“She had a problem with cocaine,” Greg told ABC. “She did too much cocaine.”

Greg said he convinced her to go to rehab to kick the habit.

Hartman and Brynn would marry in 1987 and the couple welcomed their first child, Sean, a year later.

As SNL brought more success for Hartman, he won an Emmy for writing in 1991, and voiced some of the early characters on The Simpsons. The couple welcomed their second child, Birgen, in 1992.

According to Greg, Brynn was becoming jealous of her husband’s growing career.

“Phil was getting a lot of attention and [Brynn] wasn't getting any attention… I suppose some of that's natural,” Greg Omdahl told ABC. “She just wanted to be more part of the spotlight than she was, you know.”

In 1994, after eight seasons of SNL, Hartman left the show. He signed on to an NBC sitcom called NewsRadio.

In 1997, Hartman’s co-star Andy Dick gave Brynn some cocaine after she asked if he had any, according to ABC.

“She was already in relapse mode, which I didn't even know she had a problem [with] at all in the first place,” Dick said in a 20/20 interview.

“Brynn had low self-esteem. She worried about looking older, getting older,” Phil Hartman’s friend Dawna Kaufmann told ABC.

On the night of the murder-suicide, Brynn went out for drinks with a friend and drove to her friend and former lover Ron Douglas’ house, according to ABC. She returned home around 12:45 a.m.

Ron Douglas told police that at 3:45 am, Brynn came back to his house and said “I killed Phil, I don’t know why,” according to ABC. They two drove back to the Hartman residence and, once there, Brynn locked herself in the master bedroom and pulled the trigger, killing herself.

“We go through the door, we find a man [lying] on the bed, he has a bullet hole through his forehead. There's a woman [lying] next to him, and she also has a gunshot wound,” said Los Angeles Police Department officer Daniel Carnahan. “Looking at the bodies it's obvious… that they were not alive.”

“For me, it is one of the most tragic scenes… [Hartman] had actually experienced the American dream that most people don't get to experience,” Carnahan said. “To have that taken away in this fashion seems so contradictory and so out of place and so unfair.”

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