Harold Ramis, one of film’s most celebrated and influential writers and directors, died early Monday morning at his Chicago home at the age of 69. Ramis was the noted director of comedy classics such as Caddyshack, Groundhog Day, National Lampoon’s Vacation and Analyze This. According to his wife, Erica Mann Ramis, he died from complications of autoimmune inflammatory vasculitis, a rare disease that he began to struggle with in May 2010.
Ramis wrote or co-wrote many of the most iconic comedies of his generation, including Ghostbusters, Stripes, Meatballs and National Lampoon’s Animal House. He began as a performer and was the first head writer for Second City Television (or SCTV) in Chicago during the late 1970s. There, he was a part of a comic ensemble that also featured Dan Aykroyd, John Belushi, Bill Murray and Gilda Radner. He worked on SCTV from 1976 to 1979 and also popped up in various acting roles, most notably as Dr. Egon Spengler in Ghostbusters and its sequel, where he starred alongside Aykroyd and Murray. Ramis and Murray would collaborate on six films during their careers.
Ramis’s influence on film comedy cannot be overstated. He penned four of the American Film Institute’s 100 Funniest Movies (Ghostbusters, Groundhog Day, Animal House and Caddyshack) and Peter and Bobby Farrelly, Jay Roach and Judd Apatow – four directors who continue to innovate the comedy genre on film and television – call him a major inspiration.
“When I was 15, I interviewed Harold for my high school radio station, and he was the person that I wanted to be when I was growing up,” explains Apatow, who cast Ramis as Seth Rogen’s father in Knocked Up and produced the director’s final film, Year One. “His work is the reason why so many of us got into comedy. He literally made every single one of our favourite movies.”
Although his early films had a zany sense of humour that still resonates with audiences more than 30 years later, his later efforts were more cerebral, with sympathetic characters exploring an offbeat reality that was bleak or strange, such as Groundhog Day, Multiplicity and The Ice Harvest.
“The relationship between comedy and life – that’s the edge I live on, and maybe it’s my protection against looking at the tragedy of it all,” Ramis said. “It’s seeing life in balance. Comedy and tragedy co-exist. You can’t have one without the other. I’m of the school that anything can be funny, if seen from a comedic point of view.”
An intelligent, imaginative comic voice on film and television, Ramis’s legacy will continue to live on for many years and inspire generations of writers, actors and directors.
R.I.P. Harold Ramis, you will be missed.