Formidably smart Hollywood comedy triple threat Harold Ramis has died at age 69 after struggling for four years with a rare autoimmune disorder. Anarchic comedy classics that will be remembered include his “Groundhog Day” (1993) and “Ghostbusters” (1984), among the all-time highest-grossing comedies, which Ramis wrote and co-starred in with Bill Murray, Ernie Hudson and Sigourney Weaver. Ramis successfully partnered with “Ghostbusters” director Ivan Reitman, who first produced “National Lampoon’s Animal House” and then directed Ramis scripts for “Meatballs,” “Stripes,” “Ghostbusters” and “Ghostbusters II” (1989). Most recently Ramis directed episodes of NBC’s “The Office.”
A graduate of Chicago’s Second City and “Second City Television (SCTV)” (1976-79), Ramis returned to live in his native Chicago in 1996.
Ramis wrote “National Lampoon’s Animal House” (1978) which launched the career of his Second City pal John Belushi, followed by Ramis’ directorial debut “Caddyshack” (1980), “National Lampoon’s Vacation” (1983) and mobster comedies “Analyze This” (1999) and “Analyze That” (2002), which played off Robert De Niro’s gangster persona.
After graduating from Senn High School and Washington University in St. Louis, Ramis started out in the 1960s freelancing for the Chicago Daily News and Playboy Magazine. He figured out his demeanor as a Second City straight man and acted throughout his career in “Stripes” and “Ghostbuster” as well as James L. Brooks’ “As Good as It Gets” (1997) and Apatow’s improvisatory “Knocked Up” (2007).
Ramis moved to New York City to work with Second City cast members Belushi and Murray (who did six movies with Ramis) on “The National Lampoon Radio Hour.” That trio and Gilda Radner also performed in producer Ivan Reitman’s National Lampoon stage show, which led to Reitman and Ramis’s long and fruitful partnership.
“I always thought he was a very talented writer who always had a very perceptive and intelligent point of view about the material,” Reitman told the Chicago Tribune in 1999. “He managed to get the people to speak in a realistic way but still found something funny in their voices.”
Ramis’ silly but cerebral comedies inspired such fans and followers as Judd Apatow, Jay Roach, the Farrelly brothers and Adam Sandler. Ramis explains “Groundhog Day” here.