If there ever was a celebrity that you would think would be the victim of a murder-suicide, Phil Hartman would be on the very bottom of the list next to Fred Rogers and Bob Ross. But on May 28, 1998, news reports came in that Hartman, 49, had been fatally shot by his wife, Brynn, leading a lot of people to ask the question of “Is this real?”
Just like hearing the reports that Robin Williams had comitted suicide, it seemed absurd. But it was really happening. Phil had been shot by his wife of 11 years and the mother of his children. But why?
While Phil may have played characters on Saturday Night Live who were quick to anger, he seemed liked such a square in real life. He was often cast as parents on the show. But he was a great impressionist imitating voices of Frank Sinatra, Presidents Bill Clinton and Ronald Reagan, Charlton Heston and so much more. He was a jack of all trades, doing voice work on the Dennis the Menace cartoon as well as recurring characters Lionel Hutz and Troy McClure on The Simpsons. He had also co-written Pee-wee’s Big Adventure.
Phil had worked with Paul Reubens in The Groundlings and even played Captain Carl in The Pee-wee Herman Show. He had jumped from SNL to the critical darling NewsRadio without even a lapse in his employment work. He was also appearing in several movies throughout the 1990s such as CB4, Coneheads, Sgt. Bilko, Houseguest, Jingle All the Way and the underrated Greedy.
He was living the actor’s dream and unfortunately, that was his wife’s nightmare. Byrnn was also an actress and a struggling one at that. SNL crew said the back of Brynn was featured in an SNL cast credits as Phil was smiling and waving to the camera. It was reported Brynn had been trying to turn her head to show her face so she would be featured and they ended up using a quick take where her head was turned. People have noted that if you see her earring, it’s still moving because she had just turned her head around.
Brynn’s acting credits weren’t as memorable as she had appeared in small roles in 3rd Rock From the Sun and the critically panned North. Unfortunately, her role seemed to be as wife and mother. And while some women, such as Phoebe Cates and Bridget Fonda, are perfectly fine with stepping away from acting to let their husbands do all the work, Brynn reportedly wasn’t.
Brynn didn’t want to be June Cleaver. Like several young actresses, she probably thought that attaching herself to a more established actor might be a good way to get her foot in the door. While Phil had joined the cast of SNL in 1986, he was still getting small roles in 1980s movies such as Blind Date, Fletch Lives and Jumping Jack Flash. So, it was apparent he was going places in his life and Brynn wanted to be part of that and maybe start her own path.
But Hollywood and the entertainment industry is a strange place. Even though celebrities preach equality and inclusion on social media, in interviews and at rallies, they are still hesitant about who they hire. Brynn was in her late 20s when she married Phil and she wasn’t getting any younger. At that time, Hollywood wanted them younger and looking a certain way. One year, it’s blondes. Another year, it’s brunettes. Then, it’s redheads. It’s really all luck of the draw.
And as Brynn settled in becoming Mrs. Phil Hartman, she also gave birth to two children. But as people around the circle of friends noted, she had anger issues. Brynn was Phil’s third wife and his previous wife, Lisa Strain, reportedly had sent a card congratulating them on the birth of their first child. She said Brynn wrote a hateful letter back to her. When Lisa contacted Phil, his reply was, “You should’ve seen what she had originally wrote.”
Brynn was an example of toxic femininity, something we’ve seen in Jada Pinkett Smith and Amber Heard. Brynn was known for her anger issues. In her youth, she had a substance abuse problem with cocaine and alcohol. And by 1998, she had reportedly resumed doing cocaine and alcohol after more than 10 years of sobriety. It’s been widely rumored by NewsRadio co-star Andy Dick had been doing cocaine with Brynn, even though he’s denied this numerous times.
Reportedly on the night of May 27, 1998, Phil and Brynn got into a heated argument where he told her that if she didn’t get herself under control, he was going to end the relationship. Friends of Brynn said she had been trying to end the marriage for two years but Phil wouldn’t do it. Some close to Phil speculated he was concerned about trying to make the marriage work while his two previous ones had ended so quickly. His first marriage lasted two years. His marriage to Strain was three years. The housekeeper had reportedly quit less than two weeks before the incident because she couldn’t handle the Hartmans.
Shortly before 3 a.m. PDT on May 28, while he slept, Phil was shot three times with a .38 caliber revolver. He was hit twice in the head and once in his right side. His son, Sean, would later say it sounded like the slamming of doors. Brynn fled the Encinco household and went to the household of a friend, Ron Douglas, and confessed what she had done. He didn’t believe her. And Brynn reportedly called someone else to confess.
At around 6:30 a.m., they went back to the house where Douglas had discovered Phil’s body and frantically called 911. When police arrived, Sean was escorted by police to safety. Brynn had reportedly barricaded herself in the bedroom and shot herself in the head while police were trying to get their daughter, Birgen, to safety. Police found her next to Phil’s body.
If anything else, now more than a quarter of a century later, the murder-suicide should be an example that divorce is sometimes the better way to go. Being someone who’s covered many homicides in which people were killed by their spouses, it’s best to lose a house or a boat, than your life. And spending the rest of your life in prison isn’t an easier option to monthly alimony and child support checks. Some would speculate that was why Phil didn’t want a divorce but I couldn’t fathom a court turning over the children to Brynn if she was abusing drugs and alcohol. But then again, I’ve read cases where that was the case.
I think we need to support people to leave relationships that don’t work out. Not everyone can be married for 50 years. Divorce happens and we need to allow it to happen. We need to stop this stigmata that comes attached to divorce. We need to tell people that sometimes, it’s not their fault. They say you don’t know what someone is like until you live with them and even then, you really don’t know what they’re like.
If there is emotional, mental and especially physical abuse in a relationship, leave. And we need to encourage our friends and family to leave. I know it can be hard and I’ve known people who had a hard time leaving. I know we have our own problems in life. But I get really annoyed by people who turn their backs on others when they need them the most. You don’t have to be a stalker, but you should at least stay in the know.
We also need to remove the stigmata that the men in relationships are always the problem. Yes, men can be controlling and abusive but so can women. I don’t want to get into Phil’s head but I’m sure he was thinking about his children and his career. But I can tell you right now, your career will be affected by your private life. And your children will be more affected if you stay in a toxic relationship just for them.
It’s sad we don’t have Phil anymore. He would’ve turned 74 this year. And while natural causes might have claimed his life between then and now, he didn’t deserve to be brutally murdered. We need more people in this world who just want to make us laugh and feel better.
As for Brynn, I don’t know what to say. She wasn’t thinking about her kids and she wasn’t thinking about Phil. She will always be known as the person who kill Phil Hartman. She got her fame and infamy.
What do you think? Please comment.