The actor and writer-director, known for playing Egon Spengler in the Ghostbusters films and for directing comedies such as Groundhog Day and Caddyshack, died earlier today
Harold Ramis, who helped catch phantoms in Ghostbusters and directed Bill Murray to glory in Groundhog Day, has died at the age of 69. A leading light of 80s American comedy, Ramis had been suffering from autoimmune inflammatory vasculitis for several years.
Born in Chicago, Ramis worked as a teacher and journalist before teaming up with comedians John Belushi and Bill Murray for the wildly successful National Lampoon Radio Hour in 1973. The crew later branched out into film with National Lampoon's Animal House in 1978. Following Belushi's death from a drug overdose, Ramis and Murray went onto star alongside Dan Ackroyd in the 1984 hit Ghostbusters.
Ramis made his directing debut with 1980's Caddyshack, though his best-loved picture remains 1993's Groundhog Day, starring Murray as a self-absorbed TV weatherman. In 2006 the comedy was added to the US National Film Registry as a "culturally, historically or aesthetically significant" work of cinema.
Ramis enjoyed another box office hit in with the 1999 Mafia comedy Analyse This, starring Billy Crystal and Robert De Niro. On screen he appeared in Knocked Up, Year One and the Oscar-winning As Good As it Gets.
At the peak of his success, Ramis would claim that his anarchic, freewheeling comic style was inspired both by an early love of the Marx brothers and a brief, post-college job working at a Missouri mental institution. "It prepared me for when I went out to Hollywood to work with actors," he explained. "And not just with actors. It was good training for just living in the world."
Harold Ramis: Ghostbusters' Dr Egon Spengler was comedy's GrandDude
For children of the 1980s – including some of today’s biggest film stars – he revolutionised US comedy and made some of our favourite films of all time
To have created one of the most influential comedies of all time takes talent and luck; to have created at least three takes nothing less than genius. Harold Ramis, best known to millions of 80s kids as Dr Egon Spengler, who has died at the far too young age of 69, leaves behind an incomparable work of seminal comedies from the late 20th century.
As well as Ghostbusters, which he co-wrote with Dan Aykroyd, he co-wrote and directed the unsurpassably brilliant Groundhog Day. He also created early 1980s classics including Stripes, National Lampoon’s Vacation and, of course, Caddyshack which, for years, defined American comedy. Proving he could more than keep up with comedy trends, he later directed episodes of the The Office, as well as the 90s mobster comedy, Analyse This. His films have all aged as well and as charmingly as the man himself - not something one can say about many early 80s or even 90s comedies, or those involved with them.
Ramis brought cleverness to silly comedy, form to anarchy, and enjoyed the latter just as much as the former. People can – and should – spend the day quoting their favourite Ramis jokes, but mine will always be when he and his fellow Ghostbusters are warming up their instruments: “Do!” sings Peter (Bill Murray). “Ray!” chimes in Ray (Aykroyd.) “Egon!” chirrups Egon, and the impish but eggheady smile he makes at his own silly-but-smart joke sums up the pleasures of Ramis for me.
But perhaps Ramis’ greatest achievement was the love and trust his colleagues felt for him. No one who met him or interviewed him had a bad word to say about him, which is not, to be blunt, something one says about many comedians who emerged from his era. Bill Murray – who made six films with Ramis and, it’s fair to say, knows funny from funny – understood that he needed Ramis as his straight foil, or his “focused composer”, as director Ivan Reitman put it when he cast them in Stripes. The two were estranged for several years after Groundhog Day, an estrangement which Ramis compared to having “a hole in my heart”, but were reunited before his death.
Ramis helped to guide Aykroyd into creating the best comedy of the 80s when Aykroyd was griefstruck by the death of John Belushi and wanted to write a semi-serious film about ghost visitations. When Judd Apatow and Seth Rogen spotted him at a film festival when they were promoting 40 Year Old Virgin, they followed him around like a pair of lovestruck geeks and begged him to appear in their film, Knocked Up, which he did, charmingly, as Rogen’s stoner dad, upending his early professorial persona. Modern comedians ranging from the Farrelly brothers to Adam Sandler to Will Ferrell have all expressed the debt they owe to Ramis.
When Ramis’ granddaughter was born, he announced he didn’t want to be “Grandpa.” He wanted to be “GrandDude”. There was no need for him to clarify: Ramis always was and always will be the GrandDude of comedy.