If you throw a rock into the comedy world of the ’70s, ’80s and ’90s, you’re bound to hit something written, directed or starring (or all three) Harold Ramis. And today you’ll want to pull one out and put it on to pay tribute to one of the crucial keys of the American comedy world, as Ramis has passed away today at the age of 69.
The Chicago-born Ramis got his start writing and performing on the wildly influential “SCTV” and “The National Lampoon Show,” building key relationships the folks he could collaborate with later in his career (notably John Belushi and Bill Murray) before making the leap to writing and directing feature films. And the list of achievements speaks for itself. Screenplays credited to Ramis include: “Meatballs,” “Stripes,” “Caddyshack,” “Back To School,” “Ghostbusters,” and “Ghostbusters II.”
As an actor he’ll likely be remembered for playing the delightfully nerdy Egon Spengler in the ‘Ghostbusters’ films, starring opposite Diane Keaton in “Baby Boom” or one of his many “SCTV” characters. And while his legacy will likely always begin with the megahit ’80s ghosthunting comedy, “Groundhog Day” is arguably his finest accomplishment.
The film, which he wrote and directed, sounds a bit easy on first glance—a man stuck in a loop, living the same titular day over and over again—is rigorously edited, finely honed and most importantly of all, a truly hilarious movie that also manages to have something to say. It’s nothing particularly profound, as we watch a character put aside his own selfishness for others, but it’s rendered sweet and subtly, with a terrific turn from Ramis’ longtime friend Murray, who gives one of the best performances of his career.
It’s hard to imagine the films of Jay Roach, Peter Farrelly, Jake, Kasdan, Jason Bateman or Judd Apatow without Ramis having cleared the path first, with comedies that could be both high concept and human at their best (the latter honored Ramis with a small role in “Knocked Up“).
Ramis’ recent films perhaps didn’t have the same touch, but his efforts on “The Office” are on some of that series’ best episodes. And his impact and importance on silver screen comedy is undeniable. A beloved, well-respected figure with talent that spread over two decades worth of seminal work, Ramis will be missed. And Bill Murray perhaps put it best in a statement to Time: “Harold Ramis and I together did the ‘National Lampoon Show off Broadway,’ ‘Meatballs,’ ‘Stripes,’ ‘Caddyshack,’ ‘Ghostbusters’ and ‘Groundhog Day.’ He earned his keep on this planet. God bless him.”
Below are some vintage interviews with Ramis, “SCTV” sketches, a clip from his appearance in “Knocked Up” and the “Safety Training” episode of “The Office” from season 3.