Hartman married former model and aspiring actress Brynn Omdahl (born Vicki Jo Omdahl) in November 1987, having met her on a blind date the previous year. Together they had two children, Sean and Birgen Hartman. The marriage had difficulties — Brynn reportedly felt intimidated by her husband's success and was frustrated she could not find any on her own, although neither party wanted a divorce. Hartman considered retiring to save the marriage. He tried to get Brynn acting roles but she became progressively more reliant on narcotics and alcohol, entering rehab several times. Because of his close friendship with SNL associate Jan Hooks, Brynn joked on occasion that Hooks and Hartman were married "on some other level".
Stephen Root, Hartman's NewsRadio co-star, felt that few people knew "the real Phil Hartman" as he was "one of those people who never seemed to come out of character," but he nevertheless gave the impression of a family man who cared deeply for his children. In his spare time, Hartman enjoyed driving, flying, sailing, marksmanship and playing the guitar.
On the evening of May 27, 1998, Brynn Hartman visited the Italian restaurant Buca di Beppo in Encino, California, with producer and writer Christine Zander, who said she was "in a good frame of mind". After returning to the couple's nearby home, Brynn started a "heated" argument with her husband, who threatened to leave her if she started using drugs again, after which he then went to bed. While Hartman slept, Brynn entered his bedroom sometime before 3:00 a.m. local time on May 28 with a .38 calibre handgun and fatally shot him twice in the head and once in his side. She was intoxicated and had recently taken cocaine.
Brynn drove to the home of her friend Ron Douglas and confessed to the killing, but he did not initially believe her. The pair drove back to the house in separate cars, after which Brynn called another friend and confessed a second time. Upon seeing Hartman's body, Douglas called 911 at 6:20 a.m. Police subsequently arrived and escorted Douglas and the Hartmans' two children from the premises, by which time Brynn had locked herself in the bedroom and committed suicide by shooting herself in the mouth.
Los Angeles police stated Hartman's death was caused by a "domestic discord" between the couple. A friend stated that Brynn allegedly "had trouble controlling her anger [...] She got attention by losing her temper". A neighbour of the Hartmans told a CNN reporter that the couple had been experiencing marital problems: "It's been building, but I didn't think it would lead to this", and actor Steve Guttenberg said they had been "a very happy couple, and they always had the appearance of being well-balanced."
Other causes for the incident were later suggested. Before committing the act, Brynn was taking the antidepressant drug Zoloft. A wrongful-death lawsuit was filed in 1999 by Brynn's brother, Gregory Omdahl, against the drug's manufacturer, Pfizer, and her child's psychiatrist Arthur Sorosky, who provided samples of Zoloft to Brynn. Hartman's friend and former SNL colleague Jon Lovitz has accused Hartman's former NewsRadio co-star Andy Dick of re-introducing Brynn to cocaine, causing her to relapse and suffer a nervous breakdown. Dick claims to have known nothing of her condition. In 2006, Lovitz claimed that Dick had approached him at a restaurant and said, "I put the Phil Hartman hex on you; you're the next one to die." The following year at the Laugh Factory comedy club in Los Angeles, Lovitz and Dick had a further altercation over the issue. Dick asserts that he is not at fault in relation to Hartman's death.
Brynn's sister Katharine Omdahl and brother-in-law Mike Wright raised the two Hartman children. Hartman's will stipulated that each child will receive their inheritance over several years after they turn 25. The total value of Hartman's estate was estimated at $1.23 million. In accordance with Hartman's will, his body was cremated by Forest Lawn Memorial Park and Mortuary, Glendale, California, and his ashes were scattered over Santa Catalina Island's Emerald Bay.
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