Shot in apparent murder/suicide

LOS ANGELES – Comedian Phil Hartman, famed for his impersonations of President Clinton, was found dead in his home early on Thursday and police said he was apparently shot by his wife who then killed herself.

The 49-year-old Canadian-born star, whose current NBC TV series ”NewsRadio” was just unexpectedly renewed for a new season, was found dead in his bed with the body of his third wife, former model Brynn Omdahl, 40, lying nearby in the bedroom.

The couple lived in a two-story gated estate in Encino, a suburban section of Los Angeles that is home to several stars including singer David Crosby.

Hartman, whose bland appearance and fixed grin hid a wicked wit, was known by millions as the man who played a perplexed President Clinton on ”Saturday Night Live,” a show he appeared on for eight years before leaving in 1994, complaining of its ”rejection and backstabbing.”

He was the fourth cast member associated with the popular show to come to an untimely end. Comedians John Belushi and Chris Farley died of drug overdoses, in 1982 and 1997 respectively, and Gilda Radner died of ovarian cancer in 1989.

A police spokesman, Lt. Anthony Alba, said Mrs. Hartman apparently killed herself just as police were entering the house to investigate a report of a shooting. He said that it appeared that she had shot her husband well before taking her own life.

But police cautioned that it might take days, if not weeks before the investigation is completed and the full story known.

Two children, a nine-old boy and a six-year-old girl, were found in the house ”shaken” but otherwise unharmed and were placed in protective custody, Alba said. Neighbors identified them as the Hartman’s children, Sean and Birgen.

A tearful woman who said she was a friend of the couple told reporters at the scene there had been trouble in the Hartman marriage ”but I never expected this.” She talked of there ”being a story behind this” but did not elaborate.

But if there was one, people who met Brynn Omdahl as recently as Wednesday night saw no sign. She had dinner with a friend Wednesday night at Buca Di Beppo, a nearby restaurant, where manager Tony Penn said there was no sign of troubles.

”She was a sweet, loving person. They came here on Mother’s Day with their kids.”

Actor Steven Guttenberg, a friend of Hartman’s dating back to their work in 1979 with the comedy troupe ”The Groundlings,” said he also had seen no troubles in the Hartman marriage and was astounded by what happened.

”This is a guy who’s always laughing, always having a great time,” Guttenberg told CNN. ”It’s just terrible. … Whenever I would see them, they were always a very happy couple. They just always had the appearance of being well-balanced,” he said.

A friend, who asked not to be named, told Reuters that Hartman and his wife often did things separately with Hartman spending a lot of time with his ”toys” — which included a private airplane, motorcycle and sports car.

After eight years with ”Saturday Night Live,” Hartman become a star of ”NewsRadio,” in 1995, playing imperious anchorman Bill McNeal. The show was praised by critics but had often been in danger of being canceled.

Hartman was famed for his impersonations of leading figures, especially Clinton and Frank Sinatra. Hartman also supplied the voices for several characters on the cartoon series ”The Simpsons.”

His film credits include appearances in ”Pee-wee’s Big Adventure” (1985), ”Three Amigos” (1986), ”National Lampoon’s Loaded Weapon I”(1993), ”Coneheads” (1993), ”Jingle All the Way” (1996), ”Sgt. Bilko” (1996) and the upcoming ”Small Soldiers.”

He was born in Brantford, Ontario, which was also the hometown of hockey star Wayne Gretzky. Hartman grew up in southern California and was trained as a graphic designer, producing 40 record album covers including one for Crosby, Stills and Nash and another for Steely Dan.

Hartman received an Emmy for outstanding writing in a variety or music program for ”Saturday Night Live” (1988/89 season), which he shared with 19 other writers of the show.

He became a U.S. citizen in 1990.

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