Philip Edward Hartmann, actor, comedian, screenwriter, graphic artist (born at Brantford, Ont 24 Sept 1948; died at Los Angeles, Ca 28 May 1998). Phil Hartman graduated from California State University in 1972 with a degree in graphic design, and designed more than 40 album covers and logos for bands such as Poco, America, Steely Dan, and Crosby, Stills and Nash.
While building a graphic design business during the day, at night he attended classes and performances at the famed Los Angeles comedy theatre The Groundlings. In 1975 he joined the Groundlings cast; by 1979 he was one of its brightest stars. While there, he worked with such comedy luminaries as Jon Lovitz and Paul Reubens. He and Reubens created the man-child character, Pee-wee Herman, and later developed and co-wrote The Pee-wee Herman Show for the stage, which led to a writing collaboration on Pee-wee Herman’s Big Adventure (1985), the film directed by Tim Burton. Hartman brought his character of Captain Carl, the gritty but shy pirate, to the show.
Hartman earned his reputation as “The Man of a Thousand Voices” by creating iconic voices in such TV shows as The Smurfs and Dennis the Menace, and on commercials. In 1986, after displaying his comedy chops in the films Jumpin’ Jack Flash and ¡Three Amigos!, he successfully auditioned for NBC’s hit sketch-comedy show Saturday Night Live (SNL), joining the cast and writing staff. Hartman performed with SNL from 1986-94, showcasing an impressive arsenal of original characters and impersonations, most famously Bill Clinton and Frank Sinatra. He was generous with his fellow performers and was soon nicknamed “The Glue,” renowned for holding the show together week after week.
Hartman left SNL in 1995 to pursue other opportunities, including voicing a variety of characters for 52 episodes of The Simpsons from 1991-98 and earning his first starring role in a film as Gary Young, a hapless workaholic father, in the comedy Houseguest (1995) opposite comedian Sinbad. Hartman also played supporting characters in comedies Jingle All the Way (1996), Sgt. Bilko (1996) and Small Soldiers (1998).
In 1995 Hartman was cast as the pompous radio news anchor Bill McNeal on the critically acclaimed sitcom NewsRadio. His performance was lauded for its “infinite variety” by reviewer Ken Tucker of The New York Times. The show lasted 5 seasons but before production on the final season began, Hartman’s wife Brynn Omdahl fatally shot him while he slept in their home in Encino.
Phil Hartman won a Grammy Award in 1978 for his cover art for the Poco album, Poco 7. He won an Emmy Award in 1989 for his writing at Saturday Night Live, and was nominated 3 more times, once for writing (1987, SNL) and twice for acting (1994, SNL; 1998, NewsRadio). In 1997, its inaugural year, he was inducted into the Brantford Walk of Fame. In 2012 he was posthumously recognized for excellence in the performing arts and inducted into Canada’s Walk of Fame. In 2012 and in Hartman’s memory, the CANADIAN COMEDY AWARDS established the Phil Hartman Award, given to a person or group who enriches the comedy community.