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Police seek motive for slaying of Hartman and suicide of wife

SHARE Police seek motive for slaying of Hartman and suicide of wife

Hours before she allegedly killed actor Phil Hartman and then herself, his wife walked into an Italian restaurant in Encino with a friend, sat at the bar and had a couple of drinks. They left 90 minutes later.

"She was fine, like a normal person. She seemed fine to me," said Fred Slater, the manager on duty at the Buca di Beppo restaurant Wednesday night.Sometime that evening, Brynn Hartman talked by telephone with her brother, Greg Omdahl, in Fargo, N.D. He would describe his sister in about the same terms.

Many other friends and relatives said the couple, who had two children, seemed fine. But there were published reports today that Brynn Hartman had problems with alcohol and temper, and that her husband may have been planning to leave her.

Phil Hartman, who won fame with his impersonations of President Clinton, Frank Sinatra and other celebrities on "Saturday Night Live" and played a radio anchor on NBC's "NewsRadio," was shot to death in the master bedroom of his $1.4 million home in an exclusive section of Encino.

Police believe Brynn Hartman, 40, shot her 49-year-old husband and killed herself later Thursday morning as officers arrived to investigate.

As police rushed their children, ages 6 and 9, out of the house, they heard a single gunshot and found Brynn Hartman's body near that of her husband.

"We are investigating this as a possible murder-suicide," police Lt. Anthony Alba said. "We know for sure that the female inflicted her own gunshot wound." What they don't know for sure is a motive.

Police were investigating the most obvious possibility - marital strife - amid newspaper reports Friday that Hartman's wife may have flown into a jealous rage because the marriage was ending.

"The marriage had gone sour and he told her he was leaving," the New York Post quoted an unidentified NBC publicist who knew the actor as saying. "He had a new romance in his life. That apparently was too much for her and she snapped."

Other friends and relatives said they never saw any problems and certainly nothing that would lead to murder.

"They were always a very happy couple," said actor Steve Guttenberg, a friend of Phil Hartman's for 20 years. "They always had the appearance of being well-balanced."

Hartman was one of the key players on "NewsRadio," but his death isn't likely to end the series.

"NBC won't cancel the series," industry analyst Larry Gerbrandt of Paul Kagan Associates predicted Thursday. "It's in the grandest tradition of the theater world, the show must go on."

Historically, the abrupt loss of an actor hasn't been enough to shut down other TV series, even when the performer was a featured player or when the circumstances were tragic.