Phil Hartman (1948 - 1998) died fifteen years ago today.
But gradually, most of the people there began to warm up to me. An important tool that worked in my favor was that, as a former corporate exec, I had been granted and was allowed to keep my unlimited Internet access. Back in those days, I guess the company's thought was that if everyone had Internet access, all that employees would do was spend all workday screwing around surfing the Web (heh - that never happens nowadays, does it?). So Web privileges were parsed out only to a fortunate few, mostly senior executives - and, for some reason, me. This came in handy in my new position that March, during the annual NCAA basketball tournament, when I was able to provide up-to-the-minute scores of tourney games to the multitude of hoops fanatics (and office pool participants) there. And I wasn't stingy about occasionally letting someone into my office to use Yahoo! It's always little gestures like that, I've found, that turn people around.
I was sitting in my office on that early morning in late May, taking a break and checking out the news, when I came across the initial headline: "Phil Hartman Dead", with no further details offered at that time. It was such an unlikely, unexpected, out-of-the-blue story that my mind initially dismissed it as one of those wild, unsubstantiated rumors that used to pop up as "news" in the early days of web reporting. It was when the second headline popped up a few minutes later with the news of his death that I began to take it more seriously. It took a while for the details to emerge; as in all murder cases, the circumstances were not pretty:
It was shocking news - so much so that I got up and left my office in a daze, and stumbled over to the first person I could find to tell them the news. They were just as shocked. It just didn't seem possible that something like this could happen to a star of his caliber. At that point in 1998, Hartman's career was reaching a peak. He was about to begin his fifth season as the lead on the NBC sitcom NewsRadio. And through the late '90's he starred in a series of films, including Houseguest, Sgt. Bilko and Jingle All The Way, most of which were poorly received critically but financial successes at the box office.
But, of course, Hartman's greatest success during the 1990s came from his many guest appearances on The Simpsons, and the list of classic characters he left behind - Lyle Lanley (one of the greatest musical performances in Simpsons history - the "Monorail Song"):