Today brings the unfortunate news that beloved Chicago-born filmmaker/actor Harold Ramis – known for, among other things, co-writing the Ghostbusters movies (in which he played straight-laced Dr. Egon Spengler) as well as directing such treasured comedy titles as Caddyshack and Groundhog Day – has passed away at the age of 69.
Ramis, born Harold Allen Ramis in Chicago, Illinois on November 21st, 1944, worked as a freelance arts writer for the Chicago Daily News as well as a joke editor and reviewer for Playboy magazine, prior to him joining the Chicago Second City’s Improvisational Theatre Troupe in the late 1960s. He continued his climb towards a full-blown Hollywood career by serving as head writer for (and starring on) the Canadian comedy sketch series SCTV during the mid-1970s.
Thereafter, in 1978, Ramis broke-out by co-writing the iconic college raunch-comedy Animal House; he would go on to continue working under the National Lampoon banner for some time, which included directing the original Vacation movie (starring Chevy Chase) in 1983. Meanwhile, Ramis formed a strong working relationship with Bill Murray, writing Murray’s famous summer-camp comedy Meatballs before he went on to co-write and direct the famous Murray 1980s comedies Caddyshack and Stripes (Ramis also co-headlined the latter).
Murray and Ramis shared certain comedy performance qualities – that includes a knack for deadpan and witty improvisation during even the most ludicrous comical scenarios – that made them natural collaborators; in addition, their work endeared them to multiple generations of moviegoers (like those who grew up watching their team-up comedies from the late 1970s and ’80s). No wonder that when the pair united with Dan Aykroyd on Ghostbusters, the resulting horror/comedy franchise proved to become the phenomenon that it did (one that still resonates 30 years later).
Some might argue that the crowning achievement in Ramis and Murray’s joint career is Groundhog Day, their 1993 film – starring Murray and co-written/directed by Ramis, who makes a cameo as a neurologist – about a cynical and self-absorbed weather man who undergoes a spiritual transformation, after getting stuck in a time loop that forces him to relive the eponymous date over and over. The film received no Oscar nominations back in the day, yet it is now widely regarded as a classic of the late 20th century (and ranks on the American Film Institute’s top ten fantasy films, no less).
There are several other famous and/or beloved comedies to which we owe Ramis credit as a writer, including one of the best-known Rodney Dangerfield vehicles, Back to School; not to mention, his popular directorial efforts in the 1990s, which include the Michael Keaton sci-fi comedy Multiplicity and the Robert De Niro mobster comedy Analyze This. Admittedly, there was a noticeable drop-off in popularity (and quality) with Ramis’ directorial features released during the aughts (see: Analyze That, Year One), though he also managed to do fine work directing a handful of episodes on the U.S. version of The Office TV series during that time.
Sad truth is, Ramis’ health began to seriously deteriorate as far back in 2010, due to him suffering from the rare disease known as autoimmune inflammatory vasculitis. He recovered temporarily from the complications related to his condition, before he relapsed in late 2011; this also explains Ramis’ lack of activity – professionally-speaking – these past few years, while he struggled with his physical ailments. He finally passed away early this morning, surrounded by his family.
The collective members of the Screen Rant staff would like to express their sincere condolences to the friends and family of Harold Ramis in this difficult time.
R.I.P. Harold Allen Ramis: November 21st, 1944 – February 24th, 2014.