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Hartman's friends, fans ask: 'What went wrong?'

Hartman's body
Hartman's body  

Autopsy shows comedian shot in head several times

In this story:

May 29, 1998
Web posted at: 9:45 p.m. EDT (0145 GMT)

LOS ANGELES (CNN) -- A day after comedic actor Phil Hartman and his wife, Brynn, were found shot to death in their Los Angeles home, the result of an apparent murder-suicide, there was one overriding question on the minds of friends and fans:

For a couple that seemed to have so much, what could have gone so horribly wrong that Brynn Hartman decided to shoot her husband, then herself?

In public, the Hartmans, who lived in a million-dollar mansion with their two young children, seemed happy, appearing together at numerous show business industry functions. Even some friends have said they saw nothing amiss.

But others who knew the couple paint a different picture, one of tension, addiction and marital trouble.

Friends say marriage had tension

The Hartmans
The Hartmans  

Steve Small, an attorney who represented Phil Hartman in a previous divorce and stayed in touch with the actor, told the Los Angeles Times that Brynn Hartman "had trouble controlling her anger."

"She got attention by losing her temper," said Small, who added that the couple had separated more than once. "Phil said he had to ... restrain her at times."

"I know that she wrestled with some addictions," said Andrea Diamond, a friend and neighbor, in an interview with KCAL-TV. "It seems that she was doing OK with it. She was struggling with this, and I suspected that she was winning the war, and so I didn't want to talk about it unless she wanted to talk about it."

Hartman's ex-wife, Lisa Jarvis, with whom he remained friendly after their divorce, also suggested there was tension in the marriage. "I never thought it would go that far. I can't imagine someone going that far," she said.

However, the night before the shooting, Brynn Hartman dined with a female friend at a nearby restaurant, Buca di Beppo.

"They seemed fine, normal" said manager Fred Slater.

Family decries 'unbridled speculations'

But by early the next morning, both Brynn Hartman and her husband were dead. Autopsies Friday showed that he had been shot in the head several times, while she died of a single, self-inflicted shot to the head. Test results for drugs and alcohol are not expected for a week to 10 days.

Relatives of the Hartmans on Friday released a statement dismissing "unbridled speculations offered in the media" as unfounded.

"Phil and Brynn were a loving couple, devoted to each other and their children," the statement said. "This tragedy is not indicative of who she was or who they were together."

Funerals to be private

Phil Hartman, 49, gained fame as a cast member on "Saturday Night Live," where he was best known for his impersonations of President Clinton, Frank Sinatra and other celebrities. At the time of his death, he was a regular on the TV sitcom "NewsRadio," playing a self-centered radio anchor. He also provided some of the voices on the animated series "The Simpsons."

Brynn Hartman, 40, whose given name was Vicki Omdahl, grew up in the small town of Thief River Falls, Minnesota. She moved to Los Angeles with dreams of a modeling career and changed her name. The couple were married in 1987.

Relatives of the couple said plans for funeral services were pending but would be private. Their children, Sean, 9, and Birgen, 6, are now in the care of family members.

Correspondent Ron Tank and Reuters contributed to this report.

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