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Victoria Jackson recalls Phil Hartman as kind friend and talented comedian

SHARE Victoria Jackson recalls Phil Hartman as kind friend and talented comedian

Dear Phil,

Twenty-seven TV shows called me on the day you died. I was in shock. What could I say? I fumbled and bumbled and mumbled out a public statement. "He . . . was . . . a great guy . . . I loved working with him . . . It's so very sad.""Saturday Night Live" was more important than I ever knew. It somehow entitled me to comment on you. You had seven sketches on every show . . . I was lucky to get two!

I have a lot of memories. Most of them aren't terribly interesting or gossipy . . . just life.

I remember when I met your first baby, Sean. I had been the only cast member up to that point with a baby. Now, someone else could understand the struggle between parental love and show biz demands.

Brynn, so beautiful and proud, showed up at the office with your baby. I got him a fancy, cool, N.Y. hat to keep his head warm. What do ya get a baby who has everything?

Thanks for getting me the MCI commercial when I was out of work.

I'm still in shock. I keep staring at the newspaper and endless TV photos of you. I can't think about anything else.

We are all so sad. Very sad.

As I walked through the Chicago airport on the day you died, on my way to do stand-up comedy in Dayton, Ohio, your picture and the shocking headline were fresh off the press in the late-edition news. I put a quarter in the machine and got a paper. I felt like you were standing next to me laughing at what a dramatic headline they had given you. Just like in a movie.

This was a strange year for death. Princess Di, Sonny Bono, John Denver, Chris Farley. When Jim McCawley (talent scout who first put me on the "Tonight Show" in 1983) suddenly died of cancer last June, I wrote a song that seems to apply:


You can't buy talent in a guitar store

You can't buy talent in a guitar store

But you can buy lots of guitar strings

And lots of curvy wooden things.

You can't buy talent in a guitar store

But you can buy a nice ukulele.

I got my kids a hamster the other day

They "loved him to death," you could say

I told 'em, "hold him gentle" but they made him do ballet.

Ya can't buy a hamster that knows ballet

But you can buy a nice ukulele.

My husband said just the other day

Look at the sunset goin' down that way

It seems to go slow the whole day long

But it goes much faster when it's near the horizon

Why does it do that and what does it mean?

. . . I just played my nice ukulele.

I called my friend up the other day

Invited him to dinner in the usual way

He said he couldn't come cuz' he was in the hospital

I said "What do ya have?"

He said . . . "I'm terminal" . . .

We both paused . . . and I started to pray -

I didn't want to play my nice ukulele.

Now the Bible has a word or two

About me and about you

It seems to say o'er and o'er again

The horizon is not the end of our life span.

So I'll speed up my song, the horizon's near

And tell my kids our hamster's in heaven with my friend I hold so dear

And I'll grin and play 'til the end of the day

On my nice ukulele.

Ya can't buy eternal life in a guitar store

But you can buy a Bible in a Bible store

Or get one for free in a hotel room drawer

Or borrow one from me and read John 3:16 o'er and o'er

. . . But don't talk about Jesus 'cuz people get sore

. . . Just play your nice ukulele.

Phil, we talked about Jesus once in your office. I wish we would have more, but the Bible makes people so uncomfortable. Well, there you are. What's it like? Did you meet God face to face? Is Jesus Christ on His right hand? I think so. I'm a believer.

Maybe, someday, we can do comedy sketches in heaven. You'll probably have seven lines, and I'll be lucky to have two.

Thank you for being kind to me on our short, earthly visit.

Love, Victoria