Phil Hartman’s friend and lawyer, Steve Small, told ABC’s “20/20” that he was better at falling into romances than maintaining them. The actor’s first two marriages were short-lived, but after he tied the knot with Brynn Omdahl, the two remained married until their death. Still, theirs was a union marked by love and fierce tension. Their temperaments — hers volatile, his reclusive — were a bad match. According to People, Hartman once described their dynamic to Small: “I go into my cave and she throws grenades to get me out.” Speaking to Salon, Hartman’s biographer, Mike Thomas, said the comedian likely knew the marriage was unhealthy, but he didn’t want to hurt his children with Brynn or have a third failed marriage on his hands if they divorced.
By 1998, the family lived in an English cottage-style mansion in Encino (per the New York Daily News). Smalls told People that the night before their deaths, the Hartmans had an argument related to Brynn’s ongoing experiences with drug and alcohol abuse. Earlier, she had been out drinking and stopped in at an ex-lover’s house to complain about Hartman. In a go-to move after an argument, Hartman went to sleep, expecting things to be fine in the morning. But at some point before 3 a.m., Brynn took a .38 caliber handgun that Hartman kept in a safe, found him in bed, and shot him three times. Two shots hit him in the head, while the third hit his right side.