(born Vicki Jo Omdahl) (April 11, 1958 – May 28, 1998) was the wife
and murderer of actor and comedian Phil Hartman.
Vicki Jo Omdahl was born in Thief River Falls,
Minnesota, to Donald Gene Omdahl and Constance Faye Omdahl (née
Arnold), and had a brother named Gregory Clark Omdahl and two sisters
named Katherine Kelly Omdahl Wright and Debbie Omdahl Borreson. On May
20, 1977, she married Douglas Iver Torfin, but they later divorced.
On November 25, 1987, she married Phil Hartman.
They had two children: Sean Edward Hartman (born 1987) and Birgen
Hartman (born 1992). Both children are currently being raised by her
sister Katherine and her husband Michael Wright in Eau Claire,
Hartman acted in
small roles on television and film, playing a waitress in the Elijah
Wood film North and a Venusian on 3rd Rock from the Sun.
She met her husband, actor Phil Hartman, while working as a Catalina
swimsuit model. She can also be seen during the early 1990s opening
credit sequence of Saturday Night Live, having dinner with Hartman. At
the time, Phil's career was near its highest point.
Murder of Phil
Hartman and suicide
On May 28, 1998,
she killed her husband in his sleep, shooting him three times with a
revolver. Around 2am or 3am, she drove to her friend Ron Douglas'
house, and confessed, but he did not believe her. At 6:20am, the two
of them drove back to the Hartman home where Douglas discovered the
body. Douglas subsequently called the police, who arrived on the scene
to escort the two children out of the house. Before the police
attended to her, Hartman went back into the bedroom and killed herself
with a second revolver, shooting herself in the right eye.
divorce attorney, Steven Small, stated in a CNN article that Brynn's
anger management problems may have contributed to the murder/suicide.
In a 1998 People Online article, Small also stated that the couple
argued over her alcoholism, her addiction to cocaine and the impending
divorce. Each was unhappy and accused the other of not allowing a
divorce. According to an article on the website FranksReelReviews.com,
she combined cocaine, alcohol, and Zoloft at the Hollywood restaurant
Buca di Beppo the night of the murder/suicide.
According to Phil
Hartman's friend and colleague Jon Lovitz, Brynn Hartman had been
sober for 10 years until five months before the murder, when comedian
Andy Dick reintroduced her to cocaine.
Beneath the Surface
By Alex Tresniowski - People.com
June 15, 1998
The Murder of Comedian Phil Hartman by His Wife,
Brynn—Who Then Took Her Own Life—Left a Legacy of Laughter, Two
Children and a Terrible Question: Why?
The grisly details would emerge soon enough. For
now, Phil Hartman's stunned friends wanted only laughter. And so, just
hours after receiving word on May 28 that Hartman had been fatally
shot in his sleep by his wife, Brynn, who then orphaned the couple's
two young children by shooting herself in a bedroom of their $1.4
million Encino house, several of the comic's buddies met at the L.A.
home of Jon Lovitz, Hartman's close pal and former Saturday Night
Live castmate. "Everyone was telling stories about Phil," says
Ron del Barrio, Hartman's golf instructor, of the gathering that
included SNL alum Laraine Newman. "But when they'd start to
laugh, they'd immediately lose it. They couldn't believe they were
talking like he was gone." A distraught Lovitz cursed, shook his head
and cried, "I don't understand how this could happen."
How the 10-year marriage of one of Hollywood's most
amiable celebrities could end in a bloody murder-suicide was a
question that vexed friends and fans alike in the days following
Hartman's death. What could possibly have triggered the savage rage
that prompted a loving mother to leave her children parentless? "This
is just a tragedy beyond description," says Rita Wilson, Tom Hanks's
wife and Hartman's costar in the 1996 film Jingle All the Way.
"Now two children are left without the two most important people in
their lives, and with a lifetime of confusion."
What made the tragedy more puzzling was that, on
the surface at least, the Hartmans' marriage was as robust as his
career. The Canadian-born Hartman, 49, was an enormously talented and
popular performer—lauded for his stinging impressions of Bill Clinton
and Frank Sinatra on Saturday Night Live, the goofy
characters he voiced on The Simpsons and for his role as
pompous anchor Bill McNeal on the NBC comedy NewsRadio, which
had recently been renewed for a fourth season. He had also starred in
such movies as 1994's Greedy (with Michael J. Fox) and 1996's
Sgt. Bilko (opposite Steve Martin) and most recently lent his
baritone to the children's action comedy Small Soldiers, due
in July. And while Hartman worked, Brynn—a former model who jettisoned
her own acting plans—raised their son Sean, 9, and daughter Birgen, 6.
"They always seemed happy," says Todd Red, a bartender at Buca di
Beppo, where the Hartmans celebrated her 40th birthday recently. "They
always held hands and laughed and seemed like they were having a good
Yet Hartman, a master mimic, may have just been
playing another role. His relationship with Brynn, his third wife, was
far more troubled than their public appearances allowed. The Hartmans
were emotional opposites: Brynn, say several of the couple's friends,
was volatile and insecure about her husband's fame, while Phil, an
outwardly genial man, was often sullen and withdrawn in private.
Lawyer Steven Small, a friend of Hartman's, says the comic once told
him, "'I go into my cave and she throws grenades to get me out.'" Adds
Small: "Phil was always very open with the public, but at home he
That combustible mix was undoubtedly aggravated by
another factor: Brynn's substance abuse problems. A recovering
alcoholic and cocaine user, Brynn had recently resumed drinking after
a decade of near-sobriety. "She admitted she'd had a couple of
episodes when she'd fallen off the wagon," says a friend, songwriter
Linda Thompson. "I remember her saying she didn't want to be an
addict." In the last few months, Brynn had been in and out of rehab;
earlier this year she checked into an Arizona clinic, where she stayed
for only four or five days before leaving. Several days before the
homicide, Brynn—who had been taking an antidepressant that can cause
violent outbursts if mixed with alcohol or drugs—began drinking and
using cocaine again, according to her close friends. Brynn's erratic
behavior from drug use, says a TV producer who knew the Hartmans, led
their housekeeper to quit 10 days before the shootings. And Jeannie
Petersen, a childhood friend of Brynn's who stayed in touch with her,
says Brynn wanted out of the marriage. "Sometimes she'd call me and
she'd be real hurt," Petersen says. "He wouldn't give her a divorce.
For two years she was trying to get it." Others say it was Hartman who
wanted out. "This," says the TV producer, "was not a happy household."
The Hartman saga approached its deadly denouement
the evening of May 27, which began with Brynn's visiting the Italian
bistro Buca di Beppo with her friend Christine Zander, a supervising
producer with the NBC sitcom 3rd Rock from the Sun. "She was
in a good frame of mind," Zander told PEOPLE. "She seemed content."
Brynn nursed two Cosmopolitans (vodka, triple sec and cranberry juice)
over two hours and "didn't talk about any problems," says Zander. "We
made plans to see each other the following weekend."
Later that night she returned to her Encino home
and had a heated argument with Hartman. "He had made it very clear
that if she started using drugs again, that would end the
relationship," says Steven Small, who also notes that the couple's
arguments followed a familiar pattern: "She had to get amped up to get
his attention, and when she got amped up, he would simply go to sleep.
He would withdraw. And in the morning he'd wake up, and everything
would be fine."
But this time, Hartman's ostrich imitation had
fatal consequences. Shortly before 3 a.m., Brynn shot Hartman three
times as he slept, twice in the head and once in his right side. She
used a .38-caliber handgun, one of several weapons Hartman kept in a
safe in his home. According to a source close to the family, their son
Sean, who had been in his bedroom upstairs, told police he had heard
some sounds he described as "the slamming of a door."
Following the shooting, Brynn fled the scene and
drove to the home of Ron Douglas, a longtime friend of hers. She
confessed to Douglas what she had done, but he didn't believe her. She
made a second call to another friend and again confessed to the crime.
Brynn then returned to her Encino home with Douglas, and at 6:20 a.m.
he called 911. Police arrived quickly and escorted a frantic Sean to
safety. As they were taking a terrified Birgen out of the house,
officers heard a gunshot inside. Storming the bedroom, they found the
bloodied Hartman on the bed and Brynn, with a single gunshot to her
head, next to him.
Devastated friends described Brynn as a wonderful
mother who was devoted to her children. "She was always hanging out
with them, always driving them around," says her close friend Andrea
Diamond, a homemaker. "She wasn't feeling trapped in motherhood."
Diamond rushed to the Los Angeles jail where Sean and Birgen were
sheltered after the shootings, bringing them McDonald's french fries
and holding them as they cried and fell into uncomprehending silence.
The children are now staying with Hartman's brother John, a Los
Angeles record-company executive, until, as stipulated by the
Hartmans' wills, they are taken in by Brynn's married sister Katherine
Kay Wright, 29, who lives in Eau Claire, Wis. Hartman's will, which
estimates his worth at $1.2 million, also states his desire to be
cremated and have his ashes scattered over Emerald Bay on California's
Catalina Island. A separate memorial for Hartman, at Forest Lawn
Memorial Park, was planned for June 3.
Before this incident made Phil Hartman a household
name, he was as humble and unassuming as a Hollywood star could be.
The fourth of eight children, Hartman was born in Brantford, Ont., to
Rupert Hartmann (Phil later dropped the second n), a building
materials salesman—who died, at 83, just weeks before his son—and his
wife, Doris, 79, a homemaker. Hartman told PEOPLE in 1993 that as a
youngster he "didn't make any waves." Even as an adult, he said, "I
have a passive, people-pleasing, middle-child mentality."
Hartman also had an artistic streak that led him to
California State University, Northridge, where he majored in graphic
design. After graduating he designed art covers for such rock groups
as Poco and Crosby Stills and Nash before joining an L.A. improv
group, the Groundlings, in 1975. "He was always gentlemanly and kind,
which is rare in comedy," says fellow Groundling Patrick Bristow.
"Phil was everybody's big brother." His improv work landed Hartman a
performing gig on Saturday Night Live in 1986, and when he
left eight years later his participation in 153 episodes had set a
record. "His nickname was 'the Glue,'" says SNL creator Lorne
Michaels. "He kind of held the show together. He gave to everybody and
demanded very little. He was very low-maintenance."
But that same low-key demeanor served him less
successfully in his personal life. Hartman's first brief marriage was
to Gretchen Lewis in 1970; his second, to real-estate agent Lisa
Strain in 1982, ended less than three years later. "He would disappear
emotionally," says Strain. "Phil's body would be there, but he'd be in
his own world. That passivity made you crazy. And when I'd protest,
he'd say, 'You're getting in the way of my career, and this is who I
am and what it's going to be like.'"
Hartman's reclusiveness would again become an issue
in his third marriage, to Brynn, the former Vicki Omdahl of Thief
River Falls, Minn. The daughter of Donny, 59, a former engineer who is
now a partner in the Lantern, a popular Thief River Falls restaurant,
and Connie, 58, who runs a retail shop, Omdahl was "just another
student, an ordinary young lady," says her Lincoln High School
principal Terry Soine. Determined to change that, Omdahl dropped out
of high school, married and divorced Doug Torfin, a telephone
operator, and did some modeling in Minneapolis before heading to
California and acting lessons. "She was always looking to find
herself," says a friend who has known Brynn since she was 18 and who
notes that she changed her name several times. "When I met her, she
was Vicki; then she became Vicki Jo, then Brindon and then Brynn. I'd
laugh and say, 'Who are you this week?'"
In fact, Brynn was plagued by a powerful insecurity
that was not assuaged by her 1987 marriage to Hartman. She was working
as a Catalina swimsuit model when she met him on a blind date in 1986.
"He had never had a 'babe' before, and she was it for him," says a
friend who knew the couple in their early days. "He married his dream
girl." But Brynn's friend Suzan Stadner says that Brynn soon "felt
intimidated by Phil. He was this confident guy on the way up." When
Hartman was tapped by Saturday Night Live, they moved to a
tiny apartment in Manhattan, where Brynn took acting lessons and
looked after their young children. "She would tell me she felt
secluded and totally cut off," says Stadner. In the opening credits to
Saturday Night Live, Hartman could be seen sitting in a booth
next to Brynn, whose face was never shown. "'I kept trying to get my
face on-camera, but the damn director kept telling me to turn away,'"
Brynn complained to Stadner. "'I was so frustrated.'"
Frustration would prove a major theme in the
Hartman marriage. "Brynn didn't have her own identity," says an L.A.
friend, Shelley Curtis. "She was a little confused and lost in the
Phil Hartman game." Low self-esteem led Brynn to undergo several
cosmetic surgeries. "I understood her need to spruce up her exterior
because she didn't think she had an interior," says Stadner. A plastic
surgeon who operated on Brynn says she was "very insecure. She wanted
to be this perfect wife of a Hollywood actor." Metza Giezing, the
Hartmans' former New York City nanny, says some of the surgery was
Phil's idea. "He thought her face was too round and wanted her chin to
be more square," says Giezing.
Tensions in the marriage mounted as steadily as
accolades for Hartman's talent. "He told me she'd create scenes and
throw fits," says his second wife, Strain, who sent Hartman a letter
congratulating him on the birth of his son in 1988. "Brynn wrote me
back four pages of the most hideous vitriol you could imagine," says
Strain. "I called Phil and said, 'Do you have any idea who you are
married to?' And he said, 'You should've seen the letter she wanted to
send.'" Strain says Hartman "wanted to do whatever he could to make
this marriage work." And yet he couldn't stop his habit of drifting
away from the woman who needed him most. "It was a pleasure to see how
Phil interacted with people," says his pal Small. "And yet I have a
feeling that Brynn got none of that."
Even so, neither partner had given up on the
marriage entirely. Hartman, who made around $50,000 per episode on
NewsRadio, had been talking about retiring to Catalina Island.
"He had a three-year plan," says Debbie Avellana, a friend and
waitress at Armstrong's on the island, where Hartman often vacationed.
"His attitude was that his wife should hang on for a couple more years
and then they would get to be together all the time." The week before
he died, says Small, "I asked him how things were with him and Brynn,
and he said, 'It's as good as it's ever been.'
Brynn, too, was looking to the future. Only two
days before the shootings, she booked an appointment for her and Phil
to enjoy an "Endless Courtship" treatment at the Skin Spa near their
home. "I know they were both really looking forward to the summer,"
says her friend Andrea Diamond. "They were just trying to get through
the month of May."
Even that fateful night, Brynn gave no hint that
anything was amiss as she relaxed in Buca di Beppo. "The only thing
unusual was she was there without Phil," recalls bartender Todd Red,
an aspiring actor whose career Hartman would always ask about. Brynn
and her friend Christine Zander "seemed to be having fun," Red adds.
"They were smiling and laughing." Around 9:45 p.m. they got up to
leave. "Goodbye, it was good seeing you," Red called to them. Brynn,
smiling, responded, "'I'll be back real soon, and I'll be sure to
bring Phil next time.'"
Brynn Omdahl Hartman
Apr. 11, 1958
Thief River Falls
May 28, 1998
Los Angeles County
Model, Actress, and wife of television actor and comedian Phil
Hartman. She died by killing herself with a gun after shooting her
husband as he slept.
Born Vicki Jo Omdahl, the daughter of an engineer and owner of a
retail shop, she was an average student growing up in an average
family in a small town in Minnesota. While seeking to know her place
in life, she decided to drop out of high school, and married Douglas
Torfin, a telephone operator in her home town of Thief River Falls.
Wanting more for herself in life, she soon divorced Torfin, and to
support herself, she did some modeling in nearby Minneapolis. Still
wanting to become successful, a year later she decided to try acting,
and moved to Hollywood, California, changing her name to Brindon and
later to Brynn.
In 1986, she was working as a swimsuit model when she met aspiring
actor Philip Edward Hartman on a blind date. He was a confident
comedian and actor on his way up the Hollywood ladder. When Phil was
hired for the television program "Saturday Night Live" in 1986, they
would live in a small apartment in Manhattan.
In November 1987, the two were married; it was the third marriage for
Phil and her second marriage. Brynn would stay in their Manhattan
apartment, where she took care of their two children, Sean Edward
(born 1989) and Birgen Anika (born 1992).
Brynn desired more, and wanted to become an actress, so she took
acting lessons and had some cosmetic surgery done to improve her
appearance. Despite her efforts, she obtained only small bit parts and
cameo roles on such television shows as "Third Rock from the Sun"
(1998) and "North" (1994), mostly due to her relationship to her
husband. As Phil star rose in the competitive acting field of
Hollywood, so did Brynn's jealousy of her husband's success and her
perceived failure to achieve any significant notice.
In 1994, they moved to Encino, California, purchasing a modest home,
when Phil left "Saturday Night Live" to work on the television sitcom
"News Radio." In the meantime, her husband's career began to take off,
and tensions mounted between the two. Brynn had a temper which led to
bitter arguments with her husband, as she became more jealous of his
success, even as her identity as a person became more suppressed,
heightening her sense of failure as an actress. Brynn would turn to
alcohol and drugs, including cocaine, for relief. Brynn would have
several trips to rehabilitation centers to get her off of drugs. Due
to her fears of privacy invasion by celebrity fans and crazy stalkers,
Brynn would purchase several handguns, and hide them around the house.
On the evening of May 27, 1998, she visited with producer Christine
Zander, but upon returning home, she had a heated argument with her
husband. As the Police reconstructed the crime, Phil threatened to
leave her if she ever started using drugs again (which she had that
evening), and then went to bed. Brynn started drinking to rethink the
evening's events. About 3:00 am, Brynn entered their bedroom while
Phil was sleeping, and shot him twice in the head and once in the
Still intoxicated, she drove to the home of her friend, Ronald
Douglas, and confessed to him that she had killed her husband.
Initially he did not believe her, but after she showed him the gun,
Douglas took it away from her and went with her back to the Hartman
house. Upon seeing Phil's body in the bedroom, Douglas called 911 at
6:20 am to report the shooting.
When police arrived at the Hartman house, they escorted Douglas and
the two children from the house, as Brynn ran to the bedroom and
locked the door, and then shot herself through the mouth, killing
herself instantly. An autopsy showed that she had consumed alcohol,
cocaine and the antidepressant, Zoloft, that evening. The coroner's
official determination of Brynn's death was suicide.
After the tragedy their two children were turned over to Brynn's
sister, Katharine Omdahl, and her husband, Mike Wright, to raise.
There is some dispute as to the disposition of the remains of both
Brynn and her husband; some reports have their ashes scattered off of
Catalina Island, while other reports have their ashes buried at Forest
September 24, 1948 - May 28, 1998
Phil Hartman, was an Canadian-American actor and
screenwriter, who was noted for his comedy performances on Saturday
Night Live, and starred in many movies and comedies including
Coneheads, Jingle All the Way, Loaded Weapon 1, Pee-Wee's Big
Adventure, and Pee-Wee's Playhouse. Hartman also had another talent
that of a graphic artist. He was quite talented in this area and used
his skills on many projects including the redesigning of The
Groundling's logo and design of their merchandise.
Phil started his comedy career in 1975 by joining
and taking comedy classes at The Groundlings, which is an
improvisational and sketch comedy troupe and school based in Los
Angeles, California. There he helped other comedians such as Paul
Reuben develop their comedy talents.
In the mid 1980's, Hartman starred in movies such
as Jumpin' Jack Flash and the Three Amigos!, and in the same year
successful auditioned and join the cast of Saturday Night Live, where
he appeared in 155 episodes, two times as the host, in addition to
participating as a writer of the show.
In the 1990's, in addition to appearing on Saturday
Night Live, Hartman acted in movies such as Coneheads, Loaded Weapon
1, CB4, So I Married an Axe Murderer, Houseguest, Sgt. Bilko, and
Jingle All the Way. Hartman starred alongside many great actors such
as Dan Aykroyd, Whoppi Goldberg, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Sinbad, Steve
Martin, James Belushi, Mike Myers, Samuel L. Jackson, Chevy Chase,
Paul Reuben, and Martin Short.
Phil starred in 52 episodes on the on the animated
television sitcom, The Simpsons, as the voices of the
ambulance-chasing lawyer, Lionel Hutz and washed-up actor, Troy
On the morning of May 28, 1998, Phil Hartman's
third wife, Brynn, arrived back at their house at 5054 Encino Avenue,
in the Encino section of Los Angeles, California, from a previous
night of dinner and partying. She arrived back at their house around
2:00 AM and proceed upstairs where Phil was asleep in their bedroom.
She had taken a .38 caliber handgun she kept at home and shot Phil
three times as he slept, twice in the head and once in the right side.
Brynn then retreated to a friend's house where she confessed of her
crime. The friend, Ron Douglas, at first, didn't believe her, and then
accompanied Brynn back to the Hartman's house where he discovered
Phil's body. Douglas called 9-1-1 to report the shooting. At 6:20 AM,
police responded to the residence and found the Hartman's children
Sean and Birgen unharmed. Brynn Hartman was barricaded in the master
bedroom. Police tried to persuade Brynn to surrender and even tried
diversionary tactics, such as breaking a window, to divert her
attention; however, they were unsuccessful. The police heard a single
gunshot from within the bedroom and when they stormed the bedroom,
they found the couple bloodied on the bed. Brynn was laying next to
Phil with a gunshot wound to the head. Brynn had produced a second .38
caliber handgun which she used to commit suicide.
The events that led up to the shooting were thought
to be related to Brynn's alcohol and drug use. Several days before the
shooting, Brynn began using alcohol and cocaine again. She was also
being treated for depression with the antidepressant, Zoloft.
The evening before the shooting, Brynn had gone out
to a local restaurant, Buca di Beppo, with her friend Christine
Zander, a supervising producer with the NBC sitcom 3rd Rock from the
Sun. Brynn had a couple of Cosmopolitans over a few hours and was said
to be in good spirits. She returned to the her house and had an
argument with Phil about her drug use. It is believed that Phil
Hartman was upset with his wife's return to drug use and was going to
According to the executor of Hartman's estate,
Zoloft's manufacturer, Pfizer Inc. and Brynn Hartman's psychiatrist,
Arthur Sorosky, are at fault for Hartman's death. The executor,
Gregory Omdahl, Brynn Hartman's brother, had filed a wrongful death
suit against Pfizer and Sorosky. The suit alleges that Sorosky did not
properly warn Mrs. Hartman of the potential for violent and suicidal
side effects of Zoloft and that Pfizer has not properly reported such
side effects to the public. The makers of Zoloft eventually settled
the case out of court and the Hartman children were awarded a monetary
The bodies were cremated at Forest Lawn Glendale
and the ashes scattered off Catalina Island, per Phil's request in his