Man of a Thousand Faces: A Tribute to Phil Hartman

This article celebrates the life of the talented Phil Hartman.
June 02, 2006
He was called “The Glue.” In the mid –1980’s, amid the uncertainty of “Saturday Night Live’s” future, Phil Hartman was one of the people that turned it around, bringing “Saturday Night Live” back from near cancellation. After an amazing eight-year run, he left to make several movies and star on a sitcom, “Newsradio.”

On a warm Thursday morning in May 1998, everything came to an end.

In the sleepy hours of May 28, 1998, Phil Hartman, age forty-nine, was found dead in his home in Encino, California. The cause? Three gunshots to his body—one to the head, one to his vital organs, and another to his shoulder (which was ruled out the only non-fatal shot)—were discovered by medical examiners. What was unsettling about this grisly discovery is that the death was ruled a homicide. Even more unsettling was the person who pulled the trigger—his wife of eleven years, Brynn, age forty-one. She was found next to the body of her husband with a single gunshot wound to her head, ruled out as a suicide. Their children, a nine-year old son and a six-year old daughter, were asleep nearby and didn’t know what happened.

And so, the news footage played. The image of a blonde-haired girl being carried out of the house by a police officer, Hartman’s older brother talking on a cell phone, the coroners removing the wrapped bodies of Mr. and Mrs. Hartman. Many of us were waking up and finding out about this unspeakable tragedy. I myself found out about his death when I was watching MTV News after school that day (I was fifteen in ninth grade—I should note that I don’t even look at MTV anymore). We all asked why this happened. “Saturday Night Live” fans everywhere glued themselves to the television, hanging on to every last piece of news footage they could find. The deaths, like any death, were tragic. But, this one, the death of a high-profile individual who lived more like a regular guy, was senseless.

Hartman’s death hit the “Saturday Night Live” family the hardest. Still reeling from the death of Chris Farley in December 1997, anyone connected to the show and fans alike were floored by yet another tragic passing of a brilliant star. Yet, the tragedy of Hartman’s death was that one day he was alive and well, and the next talk of fatal gunshot wounds were abound. Hartman wasn’t ill—he didn’t have cancer like Gilda Radner; he wasn’t a drug addict like John Belushi and Chris Farley; he was a healthy, active, hard-working actor who was loved by many. And now, millions were mourning his death.

In rememberence of the eighth anniversary of Phil Hartman's death comes and goes (it was on May 28th), I felt as though it would be appropriate to contribute an article about the amazing career of Phil Hartman. I could easily review the DVD “The Best of Saturday Night Live: Phil Hartman, but, as I said, that would be too easy.

Instead, I have decided to open the floor (and my inbox) to the wonderful contributors at In a recent forum posting, I asked the Newbies, Rising Stars, Retro Junkies (I myself just became a proud Retro Junkie), and King Pimps to share with me (in no word limit) to contribute a memory of Phil Hartman they felt was important to them.

To me, this is the most suitable tribute to a wonderful comedian who I will forever associate with what is good about “Saturday Night Live.” Hartman proved the show worked (and sometimes, it still does). He made us laugh, and in his death, made us all appreciate life. Keep reading. You’ll see why Hartman was such a special person, whose gift was rivaled only by his bright, vibrant personality.

Memories, Like the Corners of My Mind…
Retro Junk Contributors Discuss Their Fondest Memories of Phil Hartman

Allison_SNLKid says:
“I have lots of wonderful memories of Phil Hartman. For me, there were two very important moments, and both were connected to ‘Saturday Night Live.’

The first memory was the sketch “Love is a Dream,” a Schillervision short movie, in which Phil Hartman dances with Jan Hooks. The sketch opens on a black-and-white shot of an elderly woman (Hooks) going into a room, and opening a locked box containing a string of pearls and a tiara, wrapped lovingly in velvet. As she lovingly puts on the crown, a man steps up behind her and puts on the pearls. The gentleman (Hartman) is a dapper man in uniform, who begins to sing along with the voice over: “Love is a dream, yet it’s so real…hard to explain just how you feel. Deep in your heart, joy seems to dwell. Like poets say, it’s perfectly swell.” Hooks stands up, looking much like her young self, wearing a fancy ball gown. The couple excitedly run to a dance floor, where they step close to each other. She curtseys to him, and begins to sing with him. The song comes to a climax, with the star-crossed lovers walking beneath raised swords, as he lets her hand go. She wistfully puts her possessions back in the box, and as she is leaving, a gentleman—her lost love!—is the security guard! He gives her a small salute; she blows him a kiss. The screen fades to black, with “The End” scrolled on it.

If you saw this prior to Hartman’s death, you knew it was beautiful. You may also have thought it was unconventional for “Saturday Night Live”—I agree with it on both sides. But, if you saw it after Hartman’s death, you may have had chills, or wiped away a tear—I did. This is the kind of sketch that had a profound effect on viewers, and definitely was a loving tribute to a wonderful man. We would never get to see him age gracefully, so this was a wonderful way to see him this way. I will never forget that little salute he gave Jan Hooks.

And if you weren't already crying as this song was wrapping up, you will be crying as he gives her the salute. How beautiful.

I also included the lyrics to "Love is a Dream" after the reader contributions, so you can sing (or follow)along next time you see this sketch.

My other memory of Phil Hartman was much funnier—that would be him as Frank Sinatra hosting a McLaughlin Group-esque forum—‘The Sinatra Group.’ The ‘unrehearsed’ forum included panelists 2 Live Crew’s Luther Campbell, Billy Idol, Sinead O’Connor, and Steve Lawrence and Edie Gourmet. Sinatra’s selected topics (“The Bald Chick. What’s With Her Head?” “Censorship,” “Milli Vanilli: What’s With This Faggot Crap,” and “Ava Gardner or Rita Hayworth: Who would you rather Nail?”) were hilarious and witty. Hartman fired off these questions as only Sinatra would, calling Sinead O’Connor “Sy-Naid O’Connor,” and “Sinbad O’Connor,” told Steve Lawrence and Edie Gourmet “they were wastes of space,” and “you’re just swimming in my wake,” Luther Campbell that he couldn’t understand a word [he said], and asked Billy Idol “what was with the devil stuff—the 666 and the coffin thing? And don’t think the Big Man Upstairs isn’t keeping score. He put you in the penthouse—he could easily kick you down to the gutter with these two [Lawrence and Gourmet].”

This is definitely some of the many ways I would like to remember Phil Hartman.”

Reaper wrote:
“I can never forget Phil Hartman as Troy McClure in that episode of the ‘The Simpsons’ where he's in the ‘Planet of the Apes: The Musical.’

Especially the part where they sing ‘Dr. Zaius’ to the tune of Falco's ‘Amadeus.’”

Blueluigi wrote:
“Yeah, I heard about his death; his wife killed him. He's the person who did the voice of Blasto in the Play Station 1 video game, ‘Blasto.’ There was even a sequel planned before his death. How sad.”

Mister E wrote:
“Phil Hartman was a very vital part of "The Simpsons" in it's first 9 seasons. He was the man who voiced Troy McClure, and many of his lines start out "Hi, I'm Troy McClure. You may remember me from such films as..." His "credits" include "Preacher With a Shovel" "The Revenge of Abe Lincoln" "Calling All Quakers" "The President's Neck Is Missing" "The Greatest Story Ever Hula-ed" "They Came To Burgle Carnegie Hall" "Give My Remains To Broadway" and "The Verdict Was Mail Fraud." He was also there whenever they needed to show a lousy movie in class. Some of his best moments were in some of these, like "Fuzzy Bunny's Guide To You-Know-What" "The Meat Council & You: Partners In Freedom" and "Someone's in the Kitchen With DNA" And Troy's best episode was "A Fish Called Selma" where Selma marries Troy. He was also inept lawyer Lionel Hutz. That role was the one that made him shine as a voice actor. He kept losing every case, but all his wacky courtroom lines were said with such conviction that he believed he was right.

One of my favorite Lionel lines was Webster's definition of a contract, which, when said, actually made the plantiff (Homer was the defendant) look good. "That was a right-pretty speech sir, but I ask you, what is a contract? Webster's defines it as 'an agreement under the law which is unbreakable.' Which is unbreakable!" The Simpsons retired both characters when Hartman died, although Lionel & Troy can occasionally be seen in the backgrounds and don't say anything. Now whenever the Simpsons need a lawyer, they go to Gil, the guy who fails the most in the whole town, who just happened to get a lawyer's degree in the first episode after Phil died and they needed a lawyer.

Phil Hartman: Whether on SNL, The Simpsons, or Newsradio, or any other show he may have been on, was one hell of a funny guy, and to this day is still missed, and will be forever.”

Author's note--I can't imagine seeing those characters as silent wallflowers. I haven't watched the Simpsons much in the last three years, but I don't think I would like Gil. I loved Troy McClure!

John “Caps 2.0” Kilduff wrote:
“I actually have 2 of them.

Something I'll never forget is the short film "Love Is A Dream". SNL has pretty much been always been a comedy show, but occasionally they would do something serious. This short was wonderfully emotional (I'm tearing up as I'm writing this). Hartman and Jan Hooks' lip-synching was spot-on and the scenes were touching. Hooks was playing an old woman visiting the bank. She pulled out her safety deposit box and put on a tiara...The scene then changed and Phil walked on dressed in princely clothing. He and Jan shared a waltz and then walked as if in a royal ceremony. As the song ends, Jan puts the tiara back and looks at the guard. It's Phil. He tips his hat and she blows him a kiss.

It was touching to begin with, but it's even more poignant now that he's no longer with us.

On a lighter note, I liked his voice-over role as Dan Anchorman in the ‘Animaniacs’ short ‘Broadcast Nuisance.’ Phil was one of the best talents when it came to essaying the roles of pompous jerks, and watching Dan get his just desserts after not giving the Warners their tip was hilarious. The best part was when he was being zapped through various TV shows and he lands in the middle of a wrestling match. The announcer then says "And now it's Bulk Logan versus ‘Some Guy in a Suit’."

I miss his work.

Phil Hartman, rest in peace...Brynn Hartman, BURN IN HELL!”

Author’s Note—John “Caps 2.0” Kilduff also put it plain and simple on his forum posting:
“Phil Hartman kicked ass!”

Did You Know…?
Facts You May (Or May Not Have Known) About Phil Hartman (from Internet Movie Database)

Phil Hartman had two nicknames—“The Sultan of Smarm” and “Glue.” The latter was a nickname lovingly given to him by his original cast mates on “Saturday Night Live.” They considered him “the glue that held the whole show together.”

Hartman became a United States citizen in 1990. He was born in Canada, but lived in Connecticut during his early years and California for most of his life.

Hartman studied Graphic Design at California State University. He painted album covers for Poco, Crosby Stills and Nash, and America.

In 1994, Phil Hartman held a record for the most seasons on “Saturday Night Live” (eight, to be exact). That record has since been broken by several people.

Was originally chosen to do the voice of Zapp Brannigan on the show “Futurama.” After his death, the role went to actor Billy West.

Hartman was one of seven actors to portray Ronald Reagan.

I'm the President! Only I need to understand!

"Mr. President, it's your 11 o'clock photo opportunity-the little girl who sold the most Girl Scout cookies." The aide is the subject of my last article--Dennis Miller.
Hartman helped create Paul Reuben’s character, Pee-Wee Herman, at the Groundlings Theater in Los Angeles. Hartman co-wrote the film “Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure,” and also had a cameo as a reporter at the end of the movie (he’s interviewing Francis—you can’t miss him). Hartman played Captain Carl from 1986-1987 on “Pee Wee’s Playhouse” (I wonder if he was doing both “Saturday Night Live” and “Pee-Wee” at the same time?)

Phil Hartman was a close friend of actor Jon Lovitz. They met in the early 1980s while at The Groundlings, and remained friends until Hartman’s death in 1998. Lovitz considered Phil to be like an older brother to him.

His brother is drummer John Hartmann (this is the actual spelling of Phil Hartman’s last name—he dropped the extra “n”) of The Doobie Brothers.

He auditioned for the announcer role on “The Price is Right,” which went to Rod Roddy. I’m assuming this must have been in 1986, since Rod Roddy didn’t get the part until 1986. Aren’t you all glad he made a different career choice? You can thank Jon Lovitz for this one!

He provided some additional voices on “Scooby and Scrappy-Doo.” Why Phil? Why?!

He was in an Atari commercial in 1981, as a crazed gamer.

He was the oldest cast member to debut on “Saturday Night Live” in 1986. He was thirty-eight years old just before the season started in October 1986. However, he wasn’t significantly older than most—with the exception of Victoria Jackson (age twenty-seven), Jon Lovitz and Jan Hooks (both twenty-nine), all the other actors (Dana Carvey, Dennis Miller, Kevin Nealon, and Nora Dunn) were in their early thirties in 1986.

As Jack Nicholson during his 1986 audition. He is reciting a modernized monologue from "Hamlet." "He was looking kind of tired in a dead sort of way."


I wanted to take the opportunity to thank the contributors that put their contributions forth—Reaper, blueluigi, John “Caps 2.0” Kilduff, and Mister E. Without your contributions, this article would have been a DVD review. I’m glad it wasn’t. I felt this was more suitable.

So, thank you, as always for your wonderful contributions. I joined this site last month, and I have had a great time conversing with the Retro Junk gang (especially with you guys—we have had lots of regular conversations). It’s people like you that make participation articles more interesting. Because, let’s face it, whiz kids, my contribution alone isn’t worth anything.

Author’s Essential

“Saturday Night Live: The Best of Phil Hartman”
Original Air Date: June 13, 1998
Original Title: “Saturday Night Live Remembers Phil Hartman”
Special Features: Interactive Menus, Outtakes Reel, Dress Rehearsal, 1986 Audition, and Photo Gallery

For the curious, that is my cell phone in the foreground. I have yet to finish reading the papers underneath the box, but that is my Harrah's Entertainment Benefits package--I work for a golf course that is owned by Harrahs, and I'm eligible for my benefits in July. Yea!

I felt I couldn’t close out the article without adding in some highlights of the DVD. Here are some screen caps of the wonderful Phil Hartman, as many of us would like to remember him:

I just stepped in a big pile of Sassy!


"You are correct sir! YES!!!!"

Nancy Reagan (Jan Hooks) and Barbara Bush (Hartman) in 1989

"He used to be a caveman, but now he's a lawyer!" This is a classic, but I was never into it like most.

Charlton Heston reading the audio version of Madonna's "Sex" Book. "I love my vagina!" Picture Charlton Heston reading this, and you'll pee you pants.

Chick Hazzard--1986 Audition

Compulsion--the world's most indulgent disinfectant. A parody of Calvin Klein ads.

Peter Graves--"Jimmy, have you ever seen any Gladiator movies?"

As Robot XG-7000 on the constantly re-titled Robot Repair. Isn't that costume unbelievable??

"Hi, I'm Telly Savalas. And you want to be where the action is. But, sometimes, you gotta make your own action. And that's why I recommend "The Player-With-Yourself" card!"

Hartman's R. Lee Ermey-esque drill sergeant in a parody of "Full Metal Jacket."

Phil Donahue--you've seen, you know. Classic stuff!

This is from "Weekend Update"--the All Drug Olympics--positively pumped-up Hartman as a Soviet weight lifter...who rips his arms off. This aired in 1988.

"I am Susan. I just got out of prison."
"My idea of a perfect date--first I will push you to the ground. Then I will force you to drink anti-freeze until you pass out. Then I will pee on your chest chanting 'House on fire! House on fire!' Then you will wake up with a size nine boot shoot up your butt!"

The Anal Retentive Chef--if my mother had a cooking show, this would be it. Nothing gets done, because our anal retentive friend gets caught up in what's wrong with his food and kitchen. This could be a love it or hate it sketch--it can easily get on one's nerves!

As Jesus--I still crack up over him walking into the offices of Dick Clark, and David Spade, as the receptionist, has no clue who he is!

Jesus: My son, don't you know me from the Bible?
Spade: I'm sorry, but I'm not much of a reader...

“Love Is a Dream”
Schillervision Short Film (Original Air Date: December 17, 1988)

Love is a dream, yet it's so real.
Hard to explain, just how you feel.
Deep in your heart, joy seems to dwell.
Like poets say, it's perfectly swell."

"In every step, of this old dance,
There is delight, love and romance.
If you are the one, give me the few,
And I am sure there's no one like you.
You are all I dream.
You are a part of my heart and esteem.
And since I've met you,
Now I know that dreams do come true."

"Love is a dream, yet it's so real.
Hard to explain, just how you feel.
Deep in your heart, joy seems to dwell.
Like poets say, it's perfectly swell."

In Loving Memory

Philip Edward Hartman
September 24, 1948 ~ May 28, 1998

It’s been eight years, but I’ll never forget the images they showed on TV that day. It was like yesterday. You left not only your family and friends, but legions of fans who were deeply hit by your sudden death. May you star shine forever, and your humor continue to cater to millions of comedy fans everywhere. We no longer mourn your death, but celebrate your life, and remember you for all of the moments you touched our lives with laughter, and even tears.

Thank you for just being you…and making all our lives just a little brighter because we knew who you were. Your fans still love you, and still miss you greatly.

~Allison_SNLKid and the Retro Junk Gang
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