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May 28, 1998, Web posted at: 5:02 p.m. EDT (2102 GMT)
Correspondent Ron Tank and Reuters contributed to this report
In this story: Bodies found Thursday morning in Los Angeles home
- Police not able to confirm motive
- Hartman gained fame on ‘Saturday Night Live’
- Joins list of ‘SNL’ castmates with untimely deaths
- Related stories and sites
LOS ANGELES (CNN) — Comedic actor Phil Hartman and his wife, Brynn, were found shot to death Thursday in their Los Angeles home in what police say appears to be a murder-suicide initiated by Mrs. Hartman.
At about 6:20 a.m., police responded to a 911 call that shots had been fired at the family’s home in the suburban Encino section of Los Angeles, a house Hartman had dubbed “The Ponderosa.”
When they arrived, police found a 9-year-old boy and a 6-year-old girl, believed to be the Hartmans’ children, unharmed in the house. As they were moving the second child out of the residence, officers heard a single shot.
They then went to a bedroom in the house where the shot originated and found the bodies of the couple, who had married in 1987.
“We know for sure (Brynn Hartman) inflicted her own gunshot wound, and she apparently shot herself as the officers were in the house,” said Lt. Anthony Alba of the Los Angeles Police Department. “Mr. Hartman had been dead for a while. He did not die at the same time that Mrs. Hartman apparently killed herself.”
Police not able to confirm motive
While neighbors had told reporters that the couple had been having marital problems, LAPD Cmdr. David Kalish said police have yet to confirm that information. A neighbor who declined to give her name told CNN, “It’s been building, but I didn’t think it would lead to this.”
A friend of Phil Hartman’s, actor Steve Guttenberg, told CNN he saw no signs of martial trouble, describing the Hartmans as “a very happy couple, and they always had the appearance of being well-balanced.”
Susan Kaplow, a neighbor in the upscale San Fernando Valley neighborhood, said Mrs. Hartman appeared happy on Wednesday.
“She left me a really happy message yesterday,” Kaplow said. “Everything was fine. We leave each other silly messages all the time.”
Hartman gained fame on ‘Saturday Night Live’
Phil Hartman, 49, was born in Canada and grew up in Connecticut and Southern California. He got his break in the Los Angeles comedy troupe called “The Groundlings.” He was perhaps best known for the eight seasons he spent on “Saturday Night Live,” where he impressed audiences with his impressions of more than 70 famous people, including President Clinton, talk show host Phil Donahue and televangelist Jimmy Swaggart.
Most recently, he had starred in the NBC sitcom “NewsRadio,” where he played vain, self-centered radio host Bill McNeal. The show had been renewed for another season. Hartman also did some of the voices in “The Simpsons” on Fox.
NBC West Coast President Don Ohlmeyer said Hartman “was blessed with a tremendous gift for creating characters that made people laugh. But more importantly, everyone who had the pleasure of working with Phil knows that he was a man of tremendous warmth, a true professional and a loyal friend.”
Actor-comedian Steve Martin called Hartman’s death “a great tragedy” and said he was “a deeply funny and very happy person.” Guttenberg, who worked with Hartman in “The Groundlings,” said he was shocked by Hartman’s death.
“This is a guy who was always laughter, always having a great time. It’s just terrible,” Guttenberg said.
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by Joal Ryan
May 28, 1999, 6:15 AM PT
On the one-year anniversary of Phil Hartman’s murder at the hands of his wife, the executor of the comic’s estate is pursuing a wrongful-death lawsuit against the makers of a popular antidepressant.
The complaint alleges that the prescription drug Zoloft drove Brynn Hartman to kill the NewsRadio star and then herself.
Pfizer Inc., the manufacturer of Zoloft, was named in the suit as was Arthur Sorosky, Brynn Hartman’s psychiatrist. There was no comment yet from either party.
The court action was filed Thursday by Gregory Omdahl, Brynn Hartman’s brother and executor of the Hartman family estate. It was one year ago today that the couple was found dead of gunshot wounds in their Encino, California, estate.
Post-mortem lab tests showed Brynn Hartman’s system swimming with alcohol, cocaine and, yes, Zoloft.
Booze and illicit drugs or no, the Hartman camp claims it was the Zoloft that pushed the woman over the edge.
“Zoloft is an antidepressant that in some people causes violent and suicidal side effects,” Omdahl attorney Karen Barth told Associated Press.
Last February when talk of a possible lawsuit first surfaced, Pfizer released a statement saying there was “no substantiated evidence” linking Zoloft to violent behavior.
Sorosky is being pursued by the family for prescribing the drug to Brynn Hartman.