The Horrific Crime Scene Of Phil Hartman

On scores of "Saturday Night Live" sketches and early seasons of "The Simpsons," Phil Hartman excelled at portraying straight-laced dads, stone-faced bosses, washed-up losers, and smarmy, sleazy, or square hucksters. His role on "NewsRadio," a star turn for Hartman after his years on "SNL," was that of a pretentious blowhard. Hartman was well-appreciated by his colleagues. To celebrate what would have been his 75th birthday, "Fly on the Wall with Dana Carvey and David Spade" produced a two-part special full of comedy alums showering praise on Hartman and his chops as a performer.

Those same colleagues, many of them younger than Hartman, remembered him as a paternal if slightly distant figure off-camera (per Mike Thomas's "You Might Remember Me: The Life and Times of Phil Hartman"). Not the type who lived to work, The Washington Post says Hartman was considered a grounded man free of the torment and self-destruction that haunted some fellow comedians. Interviews collected for a retrospective look by ABC News echoed his reserve and healthy interests away from show business, but they also discussed Hartman's struggles with relationships — particularly those with his third wife, Brynn Omdahl.

On May 28, 1998, a third facet was added to the Phil Hartman story when police responding to a 911 call found him dead of a gunshot wound. Brynn was next to him, dead of the same cause, in one of the most shocking murder-suicides in Hollywood history. And the crime scene was the couple's own home.

He was shot in his bed

Phil Hartman's friend and lawyer, Steve Small, told ABC's "20/20" that he was better at falling into romances than maintaining them. The actor's first two marriages were short-lived, but after he tied the knot with Brynn Omdahl, the two remained married until their death. Still, theirs was a union marked by love and fierce tension. Their temperaments — hers volatile, his reclusive — were a bad match. According to People, Hartman once described their dynamic to Small: "I go into my cave and she throws grenades to get me out." Speaking to Salon, Hartman's biographer, Mike Thomas, said the comedian likely knew the marriage was unhealthy, but he didn't want to hurt his children with Brynn or have a third failed marriage on his hands if they divorced.

By 1998, the family lived in an English cottage-style mansion in Encino (per the New York Daily News). Smalls told People that the night before their deaths, the Hartmans had an argument related to Brynn's ongoing experiences with drug and alcohol abuse. Earlier, she had been out drinking and stopped in at an ex-lover's house to complain about Hartman. In a go-to move after an argument, Hartman went to sleep, expecting things to be fine in the morning. But at some point before 3 a.m., Brynn took a .38 caliber handgun that Hartman kept in a safe, found him in bed, and shot him three times. Two shots hit him in the head, while the third hit his right side.

The Hartman children were home when their parents died

According to the Los Angeles Times, both of the Hartman children were in the house when their parents died the morning of May 28. The oldest, son Sean Hartman, told police that he heard a sound like a door slam that night (per People). He was running from the house when police arrived on the scene. His mother — who had fled the scene, confessed to a friend, and returned with that friend after he had taken away her gun — had locked herself in the master bedroom where she had killed Phil Hartman (per ABC News).

Police took Sean and his sister Birgen away while they attempted to get Brynn Omdahl to surrender. Officers acting under Sergeant Daniel Carnahan threw rocks at the windows, smashing them as a diversion as others entered the house. When Carnahan reached the bedroom, he found Brynn dead next to Hartman — she had laid down next to him and shot herself.

Friends and family all reported that whatever Brynn's other struggles, she was a loving and devoted mother. Per CBS, her sister took custody of the children as stipulated in Hartman's will, and they were raised under another family name in the Midwest. Hartman's brother has since forgiven Brynn after learning that she was under the influence of alcohol mixed with the antidepressant Zoloft at the time of their deaths and may have had compromised thinking.

If you or anyone you know needs help with addiction issues, help is available. Visit the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration website or contact SAMHSA's National Helpline at 1-800-662-HELP (4357).