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Actor Phil Hartman Dead At 49

May 29, 1998 12:00 AM ET

Comedian Phil Hartman of "Saturday Night Live" fame, was found slain Thursday morning at his Encino, Calif., home, the victim of an apparent murder-suicide.

At 6:20 a.m. (PST), Los Angeles police responded to a call of shots fired at a home in the 5000 block of Encino Avenue. Upon entering the premises, police found Hartman's body in his bed, dead of an apparent gunshot wound. They also discovered two small children -- ages 6 and 9 -- unharmed in the house.

While police were escorting the children outside they heard a gunshot, leading them to the body of Hartman's wife, Brynn, 40, lying face up beside her husband in bed. According to CNN and other reports, police surmise Mrs. Hartman shot her husband sometime earlier and then turned the gun on herself. At press time, Los Angeles police were still investigating the incident and had not issued a formal statement.

Hartman, star of the NBC sitcom "News Radio," was 49.

Hartman started his career in the entertainment business as a graphic designer in the 1970s, when he created such memorable trademarks as the intertwined logo for the rock group Crosby, Stills and Nash in 1977.

A spokesman for the legendary rock trio told JAMTV on Thursday the logo was never used for any album cover designs, but it does appear on the back of the band's 1991 box set as well as all CSN merchandise sold since 1977. "Phil was a great artist, in terms of album designs," he said. "He created something like 40 album covers for different bands."

In the early '80s, Hartman launched his theatrical career with L.A. comedy troupe the Groundlings, who released a statement saying, "[Phil] will be greatly missed, not only by those of us who knew him personally, but also by the millions of people who appreciated his remarkable talent."

It was with the troupe that Hartman met actor Paul Reubens, a.k.a. Pee-wee Herman, with whom he co-wrote the script to the 1985 movie Pee-wee's Big Adventure. Hartman continued to work with Reubens through 1990 on the hit children's morning show "Pee-wee's Playhouse," in which he portrayed the character Kap'n Karl.

Starting in 1986, Hartman became a regular on "Saturday Night Live," creating and perfecting dozens of celebrity impersonations, including President Bill Clinton, Frank Sinatra, Jack Nicholson and Ed McMahon. He starred on the show for eight seasons.

"Phil was blessed with a tremendous gift for creating characters that made people laugh," said NBC West Coast President Don Ohlmeyer in a statement. "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 who will be deeply missed."

Hartman also appeared on 49 episodes of the animated series "The Simpsons," during which time he created the voices for four characters, including the well-known Troy McClure.

"Everyone at 'The Simpsons' is devastated by the death of Phil Hartman," "Simpsons" creator Matt Groening said in a prepared statement. "His brilliant comic acting and easy-going enthusiasm made him a joy to work with, and he will be sorely missed."

During his career, Hartman also starred in many movies, including "Three Amigos," "Fletch Lives," "So I Married an Axe Murderer" and "Jingle All The Way." He stars in the upcoming Dreamworks film "Small Soldiers."

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