Disturbing Details Found In Phil Hartman's Autopsy Report

Before Comedian and actor Phil Hartman was shot to death by his wife, he rose to fame during his eight seasons on "Saturday Night Live" from 1985 to 1996, followed by three years on the sitcom "News Radio." Overlapping those years, Hartman was also one of the most recognizable voice actors of the golden age of "The Simpsons," from 1991 to 1998. A gifted comedian and character actor, Hartman's voicing of sleazy and washed-up characters such as faded actor Troy McClure and ambulance-chasing lawyer Lionel Hutz helped elevate the hit show beyond an animated family comedy to become a striking satire of American society at large. Hartman's influence on his fellow voice actors was so great that when "Futurama" voice actor Billy West was tasked with bringing to life the solipsistic space pilot Zap Brannigan, he based the voice on Hartman's work on "The Simpsons" as well as a shared familiarity with overconfident Hollywood actors, per HuffPost.

However, the homage was also the result of a tragedy: Hartman himself was in fact due to voice Brannigan, but died in shocking circumstances on May 28, 1998, at the age of 49 before "Futurama" went into production. 

"I think in my old age I have come to realize just how precious everything is, and I try to value the many blessings that have been bestowed upon me," Hartman said shortly before his death. "But there's also this sense of vulnerability if fortune took a turn for the worse and you live with the awareness that anything can happen in this world" (via YouTube). Here are the details of his death, as revealed through his autopsy files.

Shot to death by his wife

The first indication that something was amiss in the Hartman household came when his wife, Brynn, to whom he had been married for more than a decade, arrived at the house of a friend in the early hours of the morning, telling the friend simply: "I shot Phil," according to the investigator report (via autopsyfiles).

She remained at the home of the friend for three hours, after which he convinced her to return with him to the Hartman home, where he confirmed Hartman's shooting before he called the police. The autopsy shows that Brynn had shot Hartman multiple times, first in the forehead which the coroner identified as the fatal injury, again through the neck, and once more through the right forearm and chest.

A total of three shots were fired in the killing of Hartman, who was asleep in bed at the time of the killing and unarmed, according to the autopsy report. In a chilling line that gives an insight into the compound nature of the tragedy that destroyed the Hartman family, the reported claims that the murder weapon was "found near suspect (also deceased)."

It was a murder-suicide

Though the autopsy goes no further than saying that Phil Hartman died of "multiple gunshot wounds," the witness reports included in the document and the detail regarding the location of the murder weapon explain how the shocking murder became a murder-suicide as police were unable to detain Brynn Hartman even after she had confessed to the killing of her husband.

After Brynn Hartman had returned to the Hartman home with her friend in the early hours of the morning she went and hid in the bedroom with Hartman's body, refusing to come out. The friend passed officers the revolver that Brynn had brought with her when she turned up at his house, but by the time they arrived at the murder scene, she had taken possession of another pistol. As police were trying to talk her into turning herself into custody — the report claims they attempted to distract her with a diversion in which an officer broke a window of the property — a shot rang out. Brynn was found dead of a single gunshot wound next to where she had killed Hartman, who had been dead for hours. They were lying side-by-side on the bed.

The report claims that there was no known motive for the murder-suicide at the time of its publication, but as the years have gone on details have emerged of the couple's relationship, with the ABC News show "The Last Days of Phil Hartman" (via YouTube) containing testimony from the couple's friends, including that claimed they had marital problems. 

Their children were at the scene

Brynn was intoxicated at the time of the murder, having consumed alcohol and cocaine, on top of the antidepressant Zoloft. "Between the cocaine and alcohol, the two of them most definitely intensified the other's effects ... The Zoloft is kind of a wild card," said County Coroner's Investigator Craig Harvey (via CNN).

Even more disturbingly, Phil Hartman's murder investigation report also reveals that his two children, who were both under the age of 10, were in the house at the time of the murder, and were still on the property when Brynn returned with her friend and the police were called. Officers took 9-year-old Sean and 6-year-old Birgen away from the home just as the shot that killed Brynn Hartman was heard. According to The Minnesota Daily, the children were later put in the care of Brynn's sister and brother-in-law and were the sole inheritors of Hartman's $1.23 million estate.

Though undoubtedly traumatized by the shocking events that took the lives of both of their parents, Hartman's daughter, Birgen, has since described her joy that her father's work on "The Simpsons" lives on, telling The Hollywood Reporter in 2022: "It's great that people still love and remember my dad's characters ... Even after 20-plus years, I still see people quoting Lionel Hutz or sharing Troy McClure memes. The fact that those characters have carried themselves into the modern day and have remained relevant is just so cool to see, and I think my dad would have been proud of that."

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