You Might Remember Me The Life and Times of Phil Hartman

BOOK: You Might Remember Me The Life and Times of Phil Hartman
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For my parents


He has achieved success who has lived well, laughed often, and loved much; who has gained the respect of intelligent men and the love of little children; who has filled his niche and accomplished his task; who has left the world better than he found it, whether by an improved poppy, a perfect poem, or a rescued soul; who has never lacked appreciation of Earth’s beauty or failed to express it; who has always looked for the best in others and given the best he had; whose life was an inspiration; whose memory a benediction.

—Bessie Anderson Stanley, “Success”


“I like my vagina.”

—Phil Hartman as Charlton Heston, reading from Madonna’s book,





Title Page

Copyright Notice






Part One


Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6

Chapter 7

Chapter 8

Chapter 9

Chapter 10

Chapter 11

Chapter 12

Chapter 13

Chapter 14

Part Two

Chapter 15

Chapter 16

Chapter 17

Chapter 18

Chapter 19







Also by Mike Thomas

About the Author





For eight increasingly successful seasons Phil Hartman was an integral part of NBC’s venerable sketch show,
Saturday Night Live
, so much so that colleagues there called him “The Glue.” Fellow cast member Jan Hooks coined the term, and along with her, Dana Carvey, Kevin Nealon, Dennis Miller, Victoria Jackson, Jon Lovitz, and Nora Dunn, Phil helped save the show from almost certain ruin in the mid-80s. In the process, he joined a pantheon of
MVPs that includes John Belushi, Dan Aykroyd, Eddie Murphy, Carvey, and a handful of others. In fact, according to
’s creator and executive producer Lorne Michaels, Phil may well be the leader of that pack. As he once mused, “Phil has done more work that’s touched greatness than probably anybody else who’s ever been here.”

At Fox’s long-running animated hit
The Simpsons,
where he spent eight years from 1990 to 1998, Phil did such distinctive voice work for so many memorable episodes (53)—as dunderheaded shyster attorney Lionel Hutz, clueless D-list actor Troy McClure, and numerous other minor characters—he came to be regarded by the program’s inner circle of writers, showrunners, and permanent players as an honorary member of their elite group. They revered him to such an extent that after Phil died, Hutz and McClure were retired in his honor. No one,
creator and die-hard Phil fan Matt Groening knew, could inhabit those roles in quite the same way. “He was a comedy writer’s dream,” Groening once wrote. “Phil could get a laugh out of any line he was given, and make a funny line even funnier. He nailed the joke every time, and that made all
The Simpsons
writers worship him.”

NBC’s witty workplace sitcom
also benefitted tremendously from Phil’s portrayal of the intelligent, arrogant, and aggressively self-centered broadcaster Bill “the Real Deal” McNeal. Executive producer and head writer Paul Simms created the character with Phil in mind, and Phil’s sudden absence left a huge void that was never filled. “I can’t count the number of times at table reads when they would first read that week’s script with some line that was just filler, but Phil would get a laugh,” Simms says. “I don’t even know how. If I knew how, I would be a genius. He really could help even the silliest material. And as a writer, you find you want to write for the characters that make everything funny a little bit more.”

And yet, Phil’s
has long been overshadowed by his death. Which is only natural—after all, he was adored by millions and slain in his prime. But what happened in the early morning hours of May 28, 1998, when Phil’s third wife Brynn shot him three times as he slept before taking her own life, should not supersede all that came before it. Like any human being Phil was a complex puzzle, and that tragic episode but one piece in a box of many.

While his work on
Pee-wee’s Playhouse
SNL, The Simpsons
, and
is well known, until now details of his earlier formative years have emerged only in dribs and drabs, and many of them not at all. His feelings of neglect and guilt while growing up with a developmentally disabled younger sister in Canada; his avid surfing and ceaseless spiritual questing; his visual artistry and rock ’n’ roll road-tripping; his relationships with the women he loved and the reasons that love was lost—all of those subjects and more are explored in the pages that follow. So, too, are never-before-told stories from the set of
accounts of Phil’s frequent jaunts to his paradisaical getaway Catalina Island, and previously unpublished accounts of his final days.

In researching and writing Phil’s story over the course of nearly three years, I tried to understand and present him as much more than a highly gifted and widely beloved comedic performer, or the still-mourned victim of a terrible crime. He was and is all of those, certainly, but he was also a deeply sensitive man who loved life and reveled in nature; an eminently approachable and even gregarious public figure who was privately reserved and enigmatic; a loyal friend and generous collaborator. As a friend of his once observed, “There is a small room in Phil that no one will ever get to.”

This book is a key to—or at least a reverse peephole through—its previously locked door.


Mr. Cirroc [pronounced Keyrock], are you ready to give your summation?

“Cirroc,” your Honor. [He approaches the jury box.] And, yes, I’m ready. Thank you. Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, I’m just a caveman. I fell in some ice and later got thawed by some of your scientists. Your world frightens and confuses me. Sometimes the honking horns of your traffic make me want to get out of my BMW and run off into the hills. Or whatever. Sometimes when I get a message on my fax machine, I wonder, “Did little demons get inside and type it?” I don’t know. My primitive mind can’t grasp these concepts.

(Transcript courtesy of



I need no blessings, but I’m counting mine.
—David Gilmour, “This Heaven”




May 27, 1998

On hiatus from his NBC sitcom
Phil drove his white Mercedes coupe to a Holiday Inn at Sunset Boulevard and the 405 Freeway. Arriving around 11:30
, he picked up good pal and fellow outdoorsman Britt Marin, and the two of them motored down to Schock Boats in Newport Beach to buy supplies for their Boston Whalers. Phil needed a cooler for the seventeen-footer he’d recently purchased. During the roughly sixty-mile drive, they smoked dope and talked about life. Death, too—ghosts, spirits, the hereafter. Phil said he believed in spirits and that some of them were too disturbed to migrate from here to eternity. He was sure, however, that his spirit would make the trip without a hitch. Reiterating something he’d mentioned a couple of years earlier, Phil reminded Marin that whenever the time came, he wanted his ashes to be scattered in fifteen to twenty feet of water around a natural monument called Indian Rock, located in California’s Emerald Bay off the coast of Phil’s beloved getaway Catalina Island. Marin made his own preference known as well: If he died first, Phil should place his ashes in a large gel cap and set it at the summit of Diablo Peak on Santa Cruz Island. During the next wet season, Marin reasoned, the gel cap would dissolve and Marin’s remains would flow down into his favorite canyons below.

Phil asked him, “What makes you think you’re going to die before me?”


Chapter 1

Phil, early 1950s, outside 225 Dufferin Ave. in Brantford. (Courtesy of the Hartmann family)



There were already three children—a brother and two sisters—when Philip Edward Hartmann made his debut, all five pounds of him, on September 24, 1948, at Brantford General Hospital in Brantford, Ontario, Canada, then a barely century-old town settled by a collective of Iroquoian Indian tribes not far outside Toronto. Most famously the former home of telephone inventor Alexander Graham Bell and located on the banks of Ontario’s Grand River, Brantford also produced
The Lone Ranger
actor Jay Silverheels, electron microscope inventor James Hillier, and several pro hockey legends, most famously Wayne Gretzky.

Until Phil (or Phippie, as he was also called) was nearly nine, the Hartmann clan lived in tight quarters at 35 Lancaster Street and then 225 Dufferin Avenue. The latter dwelling, a 100-year-old brick cottage on a street lined with chestnut trees, had a small living room to the left as you entered through the front door and two bedrooms on the right. A kitchen and dining room occupied the rear, and as offspring multiplied, Phil’s parents Doris and Rupert built an addition with another bathroom and more bedrooms on the home’s northwest side. The house was out of place amid its rather upscale surroundings.

“We were the poorest people in the neighborhood,” Phil’s older sister Martha says. Vacations were out of the question and everything, she remembers, “was kind of a financial struggle.” But their mother and father always appeared nattily attired and even belonged to a nearby country club. “There wasn’t a lot of money,” Martha says, “but [they] always looked really nice. And I felt proud that they were my parents.” Still, Phil’s oldest brother John says attempts to appear “more affluent than we really were” probably fooled no one.

Beginning when Phil was very young, his parents dreamed of making a new start in the United States. Their aspiration to do so began in 1950, when Phil was around two and they received an exciting offer from Doris’s great uncle Hubert Haeussler. A Detroit resident, avid University of Michigan fan, and successful businessman (in retirement, Haeussler would serve as a tour guide for and goodwill ambassador of sorts to his city’s foreign visitors), he invited them to drive with him to Pasadena for the January 1, 1951, Rose Bowl matchup between U of M’s Wolverines and the California Golden Bears. Thrilled at the prospect of vacationing, an expensive undertaking they never attempted with their growing brood, Doris and Rupert motored down to the Motor City from Brantford, joined up with Haeussler, and then headed west.

BOOK: You Might Remember Me The Life and Times of Phil Hartman
11.6Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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