Being a fan of Phil Hartman on Facebook is a fitting tribute to the guy who made me laugh through my childhood and teens. But when I remember the things he did, I wish there was more of it. Sadly, since his unfortunate death in 1998 after a murder suicide involving his wife, there isn’t really anymore – unless you dig into the archives and discover all the other stuff he had done before he was well known. Here’s a few reasons why I admire the man.
In most movies he appeared in, he has never been the main leader, but the best ever secondary or supporting cast member around. While his final movie appearance on the silver screen was Small Soldiers, (eerily, his character was meant to be the only human killed off in the film, but was changed at the last minute when Hartman’s death happened), there were some others which he starred in (Three Amigos! Fletch Lives, Loaded Weapon 1, Coneheads), and stole the scenes along the way. Some all time favourites are:
So I Married An Axe Murderer
You May Remember Me From Such Cartoons As…
Hartman did do a few other cartoon voices for Ren & Stimpy, animated movie The Pagemaster, Animaniacs, TaleSpin, Tiny Toon Adventures and more. But the claim to fame was being highly well known for playing characters Troy McClure and Lionel Hutz in The Simpsons.
Troy McClure was so popular, Hartman expressed that he was up for a spin-off live action movie of the character. Ideas were thrown around, but due to his death, it never eventuated. When Simpsons creator Matt Groening began his show Futurama, he had purposely created the bumbling egotistical spaceship loser Commander Zapp Brannigan, purely for Hartman. Groening loved Hartman’s work so much, he was told not to even audition and the spot was his, but Hartman auditioned anyway. However, once again, due to the unforseen circumstances, Hartman didn’t voice Zapp, but was given to close friend Billy West, who he knew through Ren & Stimpy. West purposely made Zapp’s voice sound like Hartman, as a tribute. With one more Futurama tribute, lead character Philip J Fry – his first name was named after Hartman.
Music is Art
A little known fact is that before Hartman got into acting and performance art, he was a critically acclaimed Graphic Artist.
Some artwork album covers he had designed were for the popular groups in the 1970s, such as Crossby, Stills, Nash & Young, America, and Poco. Hartman won a Grammy award for his album cover of Poco, but you may also recognise the artwork of America’s Greatest Hits album. (credit to Phil Hartman Facebook page)
Being The Real Deal on NewsRadio
The sleeper NBC sitcom NewsRadio built up a cult following due to Hartman’s status. Okay, that may be my own personal opinion. Based around a news based radio station in New York, the quick one-liners and the jokes bouncing off Hartman and co-star Andy Dick was very clever. It was one of the main reasons I watched the show – to watch Hartman play Bill McNeal – a ego-centric broadcaster who only cared for himself, knowing it was all about him.
And it worked.
Unfortunately, NewsRadio carries a burden with its now infamous history. It was the last sitcom for him to appear on it full time. Hartman’s wife (and future murderer) Brynn had a history of drug and alcohol problems, and also struggling to make a name for herself. At the time, Phil was always bragging about how proud he was that Brynn was sober for months, but she had slipped in to old habits again that were encouraged by Andy Dick’s drug taking ways. When Hartman was murdered by Brynn while between seasons, the first episode of the final season of NewsRadio was dedicated to Hartman’s memory, by killing off Bill McNeal. The tears are all real. Hartman’s close friend Jon Lovitz came in to ‘replace’ Hartman’s character, but was unsuccessful. The show was cancelled after the 5th season.
At the same time with NewsRadio, Hartman made a cameo as an Alien bounty hunter, kidnapping Harry Solomon (French Stewart) in the Season 3 finale. of 3rd Rock From The Sun. However, due to his death, this threw off the storyline as Hartman didn’t film part 2 of the cliffhanger for the start of Season 4, the story had to be altered and Hartman was only seen in the “catch-up” montage at the start of the episode.
Saturday Night Live
This is kind of self explanatory. From 1986 to 1994, Hartman’s ad parodies to President impressions, all memorable. There are too many to list here. But, one thing you don’t get to see too much of, is the audition tape.
Still miss him…