He was a graphic artist, writer, actor and comedian born in Brantford, Ontario, Canada. He was also one of several notable graduates from Westchester High School in Los Angeles, California. Hartman became a U.S. citizen in the early 1990s. The exact timing of his switch from "Hartmann" to "Hartman" is unknown, but all of his acting credits after 1986 were as "Hartman."
Hartman and his wife Brynn had two children, Sean Edward Hartman (born 1989) and Birgen Hartman (born 1992).
In 1975, he joined the California-based comedy group The Groundlings. Hartman met Paul Reubens while working with the Groundlings, and the two became friends, often writing and working on material together. One such collaboration was the character of Pee-wee Herman and the script of the feature film Pee-wee's Big Adventure. Hartman also met Jon Lovitz while with The Groundlings.
Hartman also worked part time as a graphic artist, including designing album covers for popular rock bands. Hartman's covers include:
Poco's 1978 album Legend (photo)
Firesign Theatre's 1980 album Fighting Clowns (photo)
Three album covers for the band America
History: Greatest Hits in 1975 (photo)
Harbor in 1977 (photo)
Silent Letter in 1979 (photo).
Hartman also designed the logo for the band Crosby, Stills, and Nash.
In 1986, Hartman joined the cast of NBC's popular variety show Saturday Night Live and stayed for eight seasons, which was a record at the time. Hartman was known for his impressions, which included Ronald Reagan, Charlton Heston, Frank Sinatra, Telly Savalas, Ed McMahon, Michael Caine, Jack Nicholson, Barbara Bush, Burt Reynolds, Phil Donahue, and former president Bill Clinton, which was perhaps his best-known impression. His other Saturday Night Live characters included Frankenstein and Unfrozen Cave Man Lawyer. He returned twice to host the show following his 1994 departure and was honored at the show's 25th anniversary special in 1999 by the members of the cast who had started their careers on the show the same year: Jan Hooks, Mike Myers, Nora Dunn, Dennis Miller, Kevin Nealon, Jon Lovitz, and Victoria Jackson.
Also in 1986, Hartman was chosen to play the role of Captain Carl, one of Pee-Wee Herman's close friends and famed sea captain in the first season of Pee-Wee's Playhouse.
From 1991 to 1998, Hartman also provided the voices for a number of characters on the popular animated series, The Simpsons, including dubious attorney Lionel Hutz and B-movie actor Troy McClure. In the episode "Selma's Choice," he lent his voice to three different characters, one of which being the aforementioned Hutz. Shortly before his death he was offered the job of voicing the character of Zapp Brannigan on Futurama. The character was later voiced by Billy West in a vocal style similar to Hartman's.
In 1994, Hartman left SNL. In 1995, he became one of the stars of the NBC sitcom NewsRadio, where he portrayed fatuous radio news anchor Bill McNeal.
His last role was in the English version of Hayao Miyazaki's Kiki's Delivery Service, where he provided the voice of Jiji the cat.
Hartman's filmography includes roles, often secondary or supporting, in such features as Pee-Wee's Big Adventure, Houseguest, Coneheads, Stuart Saves His Family (voice only), Sgt. Bilko, So I Married an Axe Murderer, Jingle All the Way and Small Soldiers, the last of which would become his final silver screen appearance and was thus dedicated to him.
Hartman was murdered on May 28, 1998 in his Encino, California home. He was shot in the head by his wife, Brynn, as he slept; she then turned the gun on herself later that morning. The reasons for the murder-suicide are unknown, although friends of the Hartmans speculated in the press that the combination of their marriage problems and Brynn's drug addictions probably contributed.
Hartman's murder caused considerable mourning in Hollywood. NewsRadio produced a special episode where the cast sincerely and tearfully mourned the death of Hartman's on-screen counterpart. After his death, Jon Lovitz joined the show in his place and stayed with it until its ultimate cancellation. Out of respect, The Simpsons retired his characters, rather than finding another voice actor. He was getting ready to do the voice of several characters on Matt Groening's animated series Futurama. After he died, the lead character, Philip J. Fry, was named in his honor.
Hartman was posthumously nominated for an Emmy Award for his portrayal of McNeal in NewsRadio, but lost out to David Hyde Pierce from the show Frasier. Upon learning Hartman did not win the award, "NewsRadio" co-star Dave Foley remarked, "What's this guy gotta do to win an Emmy?"… Expand