Fans of Saturday Night Live favorite Phil Hartman were devastated when he died at the hands of his third wife, Brynn, in a 1998 murder-suicide. But despite all appearances before the tragedy, friends said theirs was “not a happy household” for years before their deaths.
Of course, no one expected the marriage to end the way it did for the SNL alum, but many knew it would end. Unfortunately, a dangerous factor seemed to fuel the fire that turned the unraveling relationship into a real-life true-crime story carried out in the same home as their young children.
‘SNL’ alum Phil Hartman’s 10-year marriage created an unhappy household before the tragic deaths
Hartman married his third wife, Brynn Omdahl, in 1987. They eventually had two kids and seemed happy, at least to some acquaintances. Before their marriage, Brynn recovered from alcohol and cocaine addiction but relapsed after nearly a decade of sobriety. That factor added fire to an explosive nature in her, as reported by People.
Friends on both sides of the marriage claimed that each partner eventually wanted out, and things had reportedly grown volatile at times and icy at other times by the late ‘90s.
Some said Brynn, once a model, was somewhat insecure about Hartman’s success. It didn’t help that he also had a withdrawn nature at home. “Sometimes she’d call me, and she’d be real hurt,” a friend of Brynn’s claimed. “He wouldn’t give her a divorce. For two years, she was trying to get it.”
Hartman’s friend Steven Small said the Coneheads actor told him about fighting with Brynn. “I go into my cave, and she throws grenades to get me out,” he recounted him saying. According to him, Hartman would retreat to avoid fights, but he made clear to Brynn that he would end the marriage if she started doing drugs again.
“This was not a happy household,” concluded another source.
‘SNL’ alum Phil Hartman died in ‘a tragedy beyond description’
On May 27, 1998, Brynn Hartman had dinner with a friend and “didn’t mention any problems” throughout the evening. According to People, she had two alcoholic drinks and returned home where she and the SNL standout fought.
“She had to get amped up to get his attention, and when she got amped up, he would simply go to sleep. He would withdraw,” Small explained. “And in the morning, he’d wake up, and everything would be fine.”
But this time, in the early hours of May 28, Brynn retrieved a gun from a safe and shot Hartman to death as he slept in bed. Their two children were also home at the time. One later reported hearing what sounded like a door slamming.
Brynn fled the house and told a friend what she had done, though that friend initially didn’t believe she was telling the truth. She called another friend and confessed, then eventually returned to the scene.
Once Hartman’s body was discovered, a friend finally called 911 hours after the murder. As police removed the children, ages 6 and 9 then, from the home, Brynn died by suicide in the bed next to her husband. According to CNN, toxicology reports later confirmed she’d mixed cocaine with alcohol and a prescription antidepressant in the hours before her death.
“This is just a tragedy beyond description,” Hartman’s co-star, Rita Wilson, said. “Now two children are left without the two most important people in their lives, and with a lifetime of confusion.”
Despite ‘SNL’ extroversion, alum Phil Hartman ‘would disappear emotionally’ into ‘his own world’
Hartman’s first two marriages ended in divorce. And that seemed to be because, like many entertainers, the SNL comedian had a pervasive habit of withdrawing. He argued to his second wife, Lisa Strain, that it was ultimately part of him.
“He would disappear emotionally,” Strain said per People. “Phil’s body would be there, but he’d be in his own world. That passivity made you crazy.”
And those who knew the ill-fated couple agreed it was likely a combination of that part of his personality, combined with Brynn’s insecurities and addictions, that created irreconcilable differences. But though many expected they might eventually get a divorce, all were shocked by the tragic outcome.
How to get help: In the U.S., contact the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration helpline at 1-800-662-4357.