It has been 21 years since the shocking death of actor and comedian Phil Hartman. Now, two decades after his passing, ABC will be revisiting his life in the two hour special The Last Days of Phil Hartman on Sept. 19. It promises to give additional insight into who Phil Hartman was, as well as the circumstances surrounding his death.
Hartman was considered a legend in his field. Comedy wasn't initially the path he was going to follow; he started off as a graphic artist and designed quite a few well-known album covers in the 1970s, according to The A.V. Club. In 1975, he joined the improv comedy troupe the Groundlings, which helped launch his career as a performer. He spent 11 years with the Groundlings before making the move to Saturday Night Live, which brought him a much greater level of exposure. He'd already established himself as a writer, penning The Pee Wee Herman Show, Pee-wee's Big Adventure, and Pee-wee's Playhouse. But SNL gave his career a serious boost, and he was a hugely important part of the show.
In a 1998 People article about Hartman's death, SNL creator Lorne Michaels said, "His nickname was 'the Glue.' He kind of held the show together. He gave to everybody and demanded very little. He was very low-maintenance."
Hartman lent his voice to several characters on The Simpsons, as well as other cartoons like Ren & Stimpy and Happily Ever After: Fairy Tales for Every Child. He appeared in quite a few TV episodes and feature films, too, such as Jingle All the Way, Sgt. Bilko, and Small Soldiers. But his most famous role might have been radio show host Bill McNeal on the TV series NewsRadio. Hartman was starring on NewsRadio when he met his untimely death.
In the early hours of May 28, 1998, Hartman was allegedly shot and killed by his wife Brynn in the home they shared, as reported by the Los Angeles Times. When police arrived to escort the Hartmans' two children (son Sean and daughter Birgen, who were then 9 and 6 years old, respectively) out of the house, they heard another gunshot within; Brynn had died by suicide. Those close to the couple were left reeling in the aftermath.
The Last Days of Phil Hartman will explore Hartman's life and death, with an exclusive interview with his brother-in-law Gregory Omdahl. There will also be never-before-seen interviews with Hartman and home videos of the family. In the special, those close to both Hartmans will discuss their relationship and the utter confusion they still feel over what happened. Per ABC News, Omdahl will also share updates about how the Hartmans' children are doing today, though they do not appear.
The ABC special appears to be a deeply personal look at Hartman's life, with friends sharing memories and stories about him. Though many years have passed since Hartman's death, it was such an unexpected blow that the reverberations are still felt today. This special revisits the profound impact Hartman left on the world.
The Last Days of Phil Hartman airs on ABC at 9 p.m. ET.