There is no doubt about it that Matt Groening is one of the most influential animators of all time. The Simpsons is gearing up for its 29th season and Futurama, to many, is a beloved show that will go down as an instant classic. Both of these shows have made us laugh and both of them have had moments to make us cry. Yet, one of the saddest parts of Futurama isn’t from a specific episode, but from the inspiration for Fry’s name.
For a little bit of a backstory, let’s look at Groening’s close friend, Phil Hartman. Phil Hartman was not just a great comedian and writer, but he also did the voice work for iconic Simpsons characters such as Troy McClure and Lionel Hutz.
Some of you might also remember Hartman from his role as Arnold Schwarzenegger’s neighbor in Jingle All The Way. Matt Groening loved having Phil Hartman as a guest so much that while he was creating Futurama, he wrote and created a character specifically for him. Which character? Zapp Brannigan of course.
Even though the part was created specifically for him, Phil Hartman still insisted to Matt that he wanted to audition fairly for the role. Unfortunately, Phil never made it to the audition. In 1998, Hartman and his wife had an argument one evening over her drug use and he threatened to leave her if she started taking them again. That night, while intoxicated and high on cocaine, she took a gun and shot Hartman in his sleep.
Hollywood not only lost a great writer and comedian, but many in the industry lost a dear friend. Matt Groening was especially shaken by the news and wanted to pay a tribute to Hartman in the best way he could. He decided to memorialize his friend by naming the show’s main character after him. This is why Fry’s full name is ‘Philip’ J. Fry.
Troy McClure and Lionel Hutz have never been seen on The Simpsons again after Hartman’s passing. Futurama would also go on to entertain tens of millions of people around the world and to this day has a very large fan following. Phil Hartman may have left us all in 1998, but his memory will live on forever through Matt Groening’s act.