While it had never really begged close examination, the couple's 10-year marriage--his third--appeared to be fine. Just three weeks earlier, Phil and Brynn had attended a party at Mike Myers' house; observers say they, much like everyone else, spent the night laughing uproariously at impromptu karaoke performances. The Hartmans were just about to move into a summer rental in Malibu, and he had recently turned down TV work in Toronto to spend time with Birgen and her 9-year-old brother, Sean. "I remember talking about his family, his airplane, his house, his yacht," recalls Joe Dante, who directed him in the upcoming adventure film Small Soldiers. "And I said, 'Wow, how do you feel about all that?' And he said, 'I have everything I've ever wanted.'"
Perhaps, at that moment, he did. But many close to the Hartmans say there were problems, including escalating marital strain. Brynn was a devoted mother, but the former model--who, according to DMV records, had changed her name at least four times--was also described as prone to jealous rages fueled by alcohol and drugs (she had been treated for substance abuse earlier this year). Reports have her drinking with a female friend at an Encino restaurant on the night of May 27; the murder occurred at approximately 2 the next morning. According to the LAPD, Brynn then showed up at longtime friend Ron Douglas' house; she appeared intoxicated and confessed to the murder. After finding a gun in her purse, Douglas accompanied her back to the Hartman house, and ultimately called 911. The children, contrary to some rumors, slept through their father's shooting. (In a creepy twist that perhaps foreshadowed the dark turn of events, a movie script Brynn had written--and shopped around town in the last few months--was turned over to the LAPD last Tuesday. According to one agent familiar with the script, "It's eerie: It has themes of murder and drugs.")
There is speculation that the flash point for murder was Hartman's decision to leave Brynn, possibly because of her addictions, possibly because of another woman (though none has been identified). "Phil wanted desperately to keep his family intact because he loved his kids so much," says one friend. "But I think maybe he was ready to break the addiction to his wife." (The LAPD is still investigating the crime, and neither family will talk to the press, other than to say that the children will live with Brynn's sister Katherine Wright in Minnesota.)
In the meantime, Hartman's many colleagues paint an identical picture of their friend: an upbeat, graceful, Zen-like soul; a dedicated family man and consummate professional, grateful for success. And there was a lot of the latter. One of eight children born to a Canadian salesman and housewife, he studied graphic design at Cal State Northridge and went on to create album covers for Crosby, Stills & Nash, Poco, and America before turning to acting. In addition to hooking him on live comedy, the Groundlings introduced him to Paul Reubens; Hartman was instrumental in creating Reubens' Pee-wee Herman character, he cowrote the hit film Pee-wee's Big Adventure, and made regular appearances as Kap'n Karl on Pee-wee's Playhouse.