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Police: 'Domestic discord' behind Hartman slayings

Hartman and wife
Hartman and his wife, Brynn  

In this story:

May 28, 1998
Web posted at: 11:28 p.m. EDT (0328 GMT)

LOS ANGELES (CNN) -- "Domestic discord" appears to be behind the shooting deaths of comic actor Phil Hartman and his wife, Brynn, according to Los Angeles Police Department spokesman Cmdr. David Kalish.

The bodies of the Hartmans were found Thursday morning in a bedroom of their million-dollar mansion in the Encino section of Los Angeles after police responded to a 911 call that shots had been fired there.

Police say the deaths were probably a murder-suicide in which Brynn Hartman shot her husband and then later shot herself as police were rushing the couple's two children from the home. The children were unhurt.

"It's quite a complex investigation, and it's going to take quite a while," Kalish said.

He told reporters that the Hartmans' children, a 9-year-old boy, Sean, and a 6-year-old girl, Birgen, were "obviously quite traumatized by this event, but they seem to be coping OK."

'No sign of a struggle'

Police and child
An officer removes a child from the house  

Craig Harvey, operations chief for the Los Angeles County coroner's office, said Hartman was found wearing shorts and a T-shirt, lying sideways on his bed. His wife was next to him, in two-piece pajamas, lying face up.

"There is a clear possibility he was shot more than once. There was no sign of a struggle or that he took any defensive action," Harvey said.

Harvey said police found a man in the house who apparently arrived after Phil Hartman had been killed. Harvey could not identify him, and police had no immediate comment.

At about 6:20 a.m., police responded to a 911 call that shots had been fired at the home Hartman had dubbed "The Ponderosa."

When they arrived, police found the children unharmed in the house. As they were moving the second child out of the residence, officers heard a single shot. They then went to a bedroom in the house where the shot originated and found the bodies of the couple.

"We know for sure (Brynn Hartman) inflicted her own gunshot wound, and she apparently shot herself as the officers were in the house," said Lt. Anthony Alba of the Los Angeles Police Department. "Mr. Hartman had been dead for a while. He did not die at the same time that Mrs. Hartman apparently killed herself."

Reports of conflict in Hartmans' marriage

Aerial view of the Hartman house in Encino  

Some neighbors and people close to the Hartmans say there appeared to be some discord in the marriage, though apparently nothing that would have foreshadowed its violent end.

"It's been building, but I didn't think it would lead to this," a neighbor, who declined to be identified, told CNN.

A longtime friend of Phil Hartman's, actress Cassandra Peterson, told the entertainment Web site Mr. ShowBiz that the Hartmans' marriage had not been happy.

"They fought a lot. I don't know what the problems were. I have suspicions. But at the moment, they seemed to be doing fine," said Peterson, known for her portrayal as "Elvira, Mistress of the Dark."

Peterson described Brynn Hartman as "a very troubled person with a lot of problems" and said she tried to talk Phil Hartman out of marrying her in 1987.

Phil Hartman

iconLarry King discusses the death of Phil Hartman
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Part 4
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icon Interview with Phil Hartman about the movie "Sgt. Bilko"
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icon Hartman impersonating President Clinton
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"She put a serious damper on our friendship. I had a hard time continuing to have a relationship with Phil," she said. "I thought something bad might happen one day with their relationship. But I would never have dreamt this in a million, billion years."

But another longtime friend of Phil Hartman's, actor Steve Guttenberg, told CNN he did not see any signs of serious martial trouble, describing the Hartmans as "a very happy couple, and they always had the appearance of being well-balanced."

And Susan Kaplow, a neighbor in the upscale San Fernando Valley neighborhood, said Mrs. Hartman appeared happy on Wednesday.

"She left me a really happy message yesterday," Kaplow said. "Everything was fine. We leave each other silly messages all the time."

Hartman gained fame on 'Saturday Night Live'

Phil Hartman, 49, was born in Canada and grew up in Connecticut and Southern California. He got his break in the Los Angeles comedy troupe "The Groundlings." He was perhaps best known for the eight seasons he spent on "Saturday Night Live," where he impressed audiences with his impressions of more than 70 famous people, including President Clinton, talk show host Phil Donahue and televangelist Jimmy Swaggart.

Most recently, he starred in the NBC sitcom "NewsRadio," where he played vain, self-centered radio host Bill McNeal. The show had been renewed for another season. Hartman also did some of the voices in "The Simpsons" on Fox.

NBC West Coast President Don Ohlmeyer said Hartman "was blessed with a tremendous gift for creating characters that made people laugh. But more importantly, everyone who had the pleasure of working with Phil knows that he was a man of tremendous warmth, a true professional and a loyal friend."

Actor-comedian Steve Martin called Hartman's death "a great tragedy" and said he was "a deeply funny and very happy person."

Guttenberg, who worked with Hartman in "The Groundlings," said he was shocked by Hartman's death. (icon 260K/25 sec. AIFF or WAV sound)

"This is a guy who was always laughter, always having a great time. It's just terrible," Guttenberg said.

Joins list of 'SNL' castmates with untimely deaths

Hartman becomes the latest in a string of "Saturday Night Live" cast members who died at an early age.

John Belushi, who went from the original "SNL" cast in 1975 to Hollywood stardom in films like "National Lampoon's Animal House," died of a drug overdose at age 33 in 1982.

Fellow cast member Gilda Radner, who went from "SNL" to Broadway and occasional films, died at age 42 of ovarian cancer in 1989.

Last December, Chris Farley, an "SNL" star of the early 1990s who also appeared in films such as "Tommy Boy," died of a drug overdose. Like his idol Belushi, he was 33.

Correspondent Ron Tank and Reuters contributed to this report.


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