Phil Hartman (Getty Images I NBC | Dave Bjerke)
Phil Hartman died May 28, 1998, 15 years ago today. When I think of the comedian-actor-writer and his death at such a young age – he was only 49 – I feel a bit cheated.
Famous since his eight-year run on Saturday Night Live, the Canada native was at the height of his career in 1998. He was working on projects like The Simpsons and News Radio, preparing to voice the goofy spaceman Zapp Brannigan on Futurama, thinking about creating a live-action movie about his Simpsons character Troy McClure, and more. His sudden, tragic death – killed by his wife in a bizarre murder-suicide – left his friends and fans shocked and baffled. Fifteen years later, fans like me are still missing Hartman – and the massive amount of brilliant comedy we’ve missed out on without him in the world.
But instead of speculating on what might have been, maybe we can best honor Hartman by appreciating all that he left us. So we're watching a few of our personal favorites from his fantastic body of work, and thanking him for all the laughs.
The Pee-wee Herman Show: Hartman and Paul Reubens were friends and comedy collaborators early in their careers. Together they created the Pee-wee character and, while Reubens played Pee-wee, Hartman was a writer for the show – as well as the seafaring Captain Carl.
Saturday Night Live: Again, Hartman both wrote and performed – and did he ever perform. From impressions of Bill Clinton and Frank Sinatra to characters like Unfrozen Caveman Lawyer to one-off skits., whether he was the star or, more frequently, the pitch-perfect support, Hartman was the highlight of SNL from 1986 to 1994.
The Simpsons: Hartman was responsible for two of the show's most beloved recurring characters, lawyer Lionel Hutz and washed-up actor Troy McClure. McClure tops list after list of best secondary Simpsons characters.
News Radio: Hartman's last regular gig saw him playing a radio newsman – a role that often let him run wild with his fantastic talent for impressions.
By all accounts, Hartman was not just a hugely talented comedian – he was also a nice person, a down-to-earth regular guy who was a treat to work with. The world lost a lot when it lost Phil Hartman.
Written by Linnea Crowther