Phil Hartman’s brother-in-law has spoken for the first time publicly about his death at the hands of his sister in an interview 20 years after she shot the comedian and then killed herself in their home.
Hartman, who was a beloved member of Saturday Night Live and also worked on The Simpsons, was killed by his third wife Brynn in their home in 1998.
She shot him in the head and then killed herself after returning home drunk, high on cocaine and with the antidepressant Zoloft in her system.
Her brother Greg Omdahl later sued Pfizer, which made the antidepressant, claiming it cast her out of her right mind.
As part of The Last Days of Phil Hartman, an ABC special about the couple’s deaths, he spoke for the first time about them and how it felt like a ‘gut punch’ finding out what had happened.
‘I’ve lost a sister, that was such a wonderful person, and a brother in law that was wonderful. It was very hard.
Comedian Phil Hartman was shot dead by his wife Brynn (above together) in May 1998. She then killed herself
‘It was like getting punched in the gut because I knew my sister would never murder anyone.
‘It was such a hard thing to face,’ Greg said.
Hartman and Brynn married in 1987. They began dating not long after his second divorce.
He was a rising star, having worked with The Groundlings and on shows like Captain Carl and The Pee Wee Herman Show.
In 1986, he got his break with SNl which he joined as a writer and producer.
Brynn, whose real name was Vicki Jo, had moved to Los Angeles after growing up in a small town in Minnesota.
She was tall, blonde and had aspirations of becoming an actress or model. She appeared in a few swimsuit campaigns but her on-screen career never took-off.
Brynn developed a crippling cocaine habit and, despite cracks appearing early in their intense relationship, the pair got married. But as Phil’s star rose, Brynn became increasingly jealous.
‘She had a problem with cocaine. She did too much cocaine… I talked her into going through treatment,’ her brother recalled as part of the ABC special.
Brynn’s brother Greg Omdahl speaks about their deaths and how they devastated their family in a new ABC special
Hartman and Brynn are shown in 1998, the year of their deaths. She was battling a cocaine addiction, was drinking and was also taking anti-depressants
The couple’s children, Birgen, left, and Sean, right, were home when their parents died
In footage from the day their bodies were found, a cop is shown removing Birgen from their home. Their kids are both now adults
Police officers at the scene of the crime. It shocked the community in 1998
Despite their problems, they welcomed two children; Sean and Birgen.
Brynn was a loving mother to the children, her brother said.
‘When I watched the old home videos of Brynn and Phil and their kids, it really brought home what loving parents they were…and what a great mother she was,’ he said.
However friends noticed worrying traits in her behavior.
Among them was Phil’s second wife, Lisa, who sent them a card to congratulate them on the birth of their first child.
She said she got a letter back from Brynn ‘that was hair-curling, fury, rage and [a] death threat’.
‘The gist of it was, “Don’t ever f*****g get near me or my family or I will hurt you. I never want to hear from you…never, ever, ever come near us or you will really be sorry,”‘ she said.
Phil became more famous and they stuck together but their marital problems began spilling over into his work.
His make-up artist on SNL, Norman Bryn, recalls one incident where she heard them having a fight in his dressing room.
Andy Dick, one of Hartman’s closest friends, revealed he gave Brynn cocaine at a party the year before their deaths but that he had no idea she had an addiction
She confronted him afterwards, he said.
‘I said, “Phil, what’s the matter?” And he said in a comedy Phil Hartman voice, “Well, Norm, looks like the wife’s gonna divorce me this time,”‘ Bryn said.
In 1994, he left SNL to turn his hand to film and join NewsRadio. Brynn, meanwhile, had still not properly launched her career and was becoming increasingly insecure.
‘Brynn had low self-esteem. She worried about looking older, getting older.
‘The month before they died, Brynn turned 40… For many women, a 40th birthday is a big line in the sand. An emotional event,’ their friend Dawna Kaufmann said.
Her brother said she suffered from anxiety but that he thought her mental health was improving.
‘They had seen a counselor and both of them said that really helped and [that] they’re trying to improve for their spouse.
‘I mean, they cared that much about each other,’ he said.
Andy Dick, who worked with Hartman on NewsRadio, revealed that at a Christmas party in 1997, he gave them cocaine, unaware that she had been struggling with an addiction to it.
Phil and Brynn in 1996, two years before their deaths
He maintains that she had already relapsed but revealed in the episode that it caused friction between cast-mates later, when the severity of Bryn’s problems became clear.
On May 28, 1998, the night of their deaths, Brynn had gone out with a female friend for drinks.
She then drove to a former lover’s house, where she complained about her husband and drank beer.
The lover, Ron Douglas, later told police that she left his home at 12.45am.
Three hours later, she reappeared at his door, claiming to have ‘killed Phil’.
He did not believe her, he said, until he saw a gun fall out of her purse. Douglas said he then drove with her, in separate cars, back to the home. He had taken the gun from her and put it in his trunk and did not think that she had anymore.
When he got to the house – where the couple’s children were – he found Phil in their bedroom lying on the bed. He had been shot three times including once on the forehead.
Douglas left the room to call 911. Once he was out of it, Brynn locked herself in. She then shot herself on the bed before police arrived.
She had put the gun to her mouth before pulling the trigger.
The couple’s children, who are now both adults, were removed from the home. They went to live in the Midwest with Brynn’s sister Cathy.
Her brother sued Pfizer for wrongful death, claiming the Zoloft was to blame for her killing Phil and then herself.
‘I did file a lawsuit against Pfizer… alleging that the use of Zoloft caused my sister to not to know what she was doing, and she shot her husband.
‘And when she came out of that, she shot herself,’ he said.
Pfizer settled the lawsuit for $100,000. It is still on the market as a prescription anti-depressant.
The special also contains a never-before-seen interview he gave before his death where he spoke about the fragility of life.
‘I think in my old age, I’ve come to realize just how precious everything is and I try to value the many blessings that have been bestowed upon me.
‘But there’s also this sense of vulnerability if fortune took a turn for the worse, and that you live with the awareness that anything could happen in this world,’ he said.
The interview was the same year he was killed.
The Last Days of Phil Hartman airs on ABC on Thursday, September 19 at 9pm ET.