Another legend from the world of comedy has left us.
Harold Ramis, the writer/director/actor of many classic comedies, passed away Monday from complications of Autoimmune Inflammatory Vasculitis, a rare disease that involves swelling of the blood vessels. He was 69. Ramis had been battling the illness for four years.
Where does one begin to talk about Ramis and his contributions to comedy? He co-wrote and played the role of Dr. Egon Spengler in the “Ghostbusters” movies, co-wrote and stared in “Stripes,” co-wrote and directed “Caddyshack,” co-wrote and directed “Groundhog Day,” co-wrote and directed “Analyze This” as well as its sequel and so much more. Ramis was also the head writer on the sketch TV series “SCTV.” His worked served to influence an entire generation of comedians.
The New York Times described Ramis as “a master at creating hilarious plots and scenes peopled by indelible characters, among them a groundskeeper obsessed with a gopher, fraternity brothers at war with a college dean and a jaded weatherman condemned to living through Groundhog Day over and over.”
The Los Angeles Times describes his early films as “exuberantly thrown pies in the face of authority,” while his later films were described as “more introspective, reflecting what he described as his own brand of ‘existential psychology, Buddhism and progressive Judaism.’”
Ramis was born on November 21,1944 in Chicago, Illinois. His parents owned the Ace Food & Liquor Mart on the north side of the city. He loved television so much that he got up early on Saturday mornings and would stare at the screen until the first show started.
In high school he was the editor in chief of the yearbook and a National Merit Scholar. He attended Washington University in St. Louis on a full scholarship. While originally a pre-med student, he changed his major to English and earned his degree in 1967.
After graduation he worked in a mental institution in St. Louis. He then moved back to Chicago, worked as a substitute teacher and also freelanced for The Chicago Daily News. In 1968 he was assigned to cover the improvisational comedy troupe Second City. There he met John Belushi and Bill Murray.
Working for the Daily News led to a gig at Playboy, where Ramis became the Jokes Editor and eventually the Associate Editor. Ramis would also join Second City as well.
“I thought they were funny,” Mr. Ramis told The Chicago Tribune Magazine in 1983. “But at the same time I thought I could be doing this. I’m that funny.”
However It was during his time at Second City where Ramis realized he was better off as a writer and director
“The moment I knew I wouldn’t be any huge comedy star was when I got onstage with John Belushi for the first time,” he told the Chicago Tribune in 1999. “When I saw how far he was willing to go to get a laugh … how physical he was, throwing himself literally off the stage, taking big falls, strangling other actors, I thought: I’m never going to be this big. How could I ever get enough attention on a stage with guys like this?”
In 1972 Belushi brought Ramis and and other Second City stars to New York to work on the “National Lampoon Radio Hour.” Ramis was also a performers in the stage show “National Lampoon Comedy Revue.”
Afterwards Ramis went to work as the head writer for the sketch comedy series “SCTV.” He was offered a job at “Saturday Night Live” but turned it down to stick with “SCTV.”
While Ramis was at SCTV he and colleagues Douglas Kenny and Chris Miller started work on the script that would become “National Lampoons: Animal House.” The movie was a huge hit and would serve as Ramis’ big break in Hollywood. His first directing gig was “Caddyshack” in 1980. The rest is history as they say.
He was married twice sand had three children. His other hobbies included attending Chicago Cubs games, fencing, ritual drumming, guitar and making hats from felted fleece, he also taught himself how to ski by watching water skiers on TV.
Ramis was also known for being very down to earth and personable.
“He’s the least changed by success of anyone I know in terms of sense of humor, of humility, sense of self,” said Second City founder Bernie Sahlins in a 1999 interview with the Chicago Tribune. ”He’s the same Harold he was 30 years ago. He’s had enormous success relatively, but none of it has gone to his head in any way.”
Dan Akyroyd, Ramis’ “Ghosterbusters” co-star, has this to say: “Deeply saddened to hear of the passing of my brilliant, gifted, funny friend, co-writer/performer and teacher Harold Ramis. May he now get the answers he was always seeking.”
Judd Apatow, who interviewed Ramis for his school radio station at the age of 16, had this to say: “He was the person that I wanted to be when I was growing up. His work is the reason why so many of us got into comedy.… He literally made every single one of our favorite movies.”
President Obama had this to say about his death:
“Michelle and I were saddened to hear of the passing of Harold Ramis, one of America’s greatest satirists, and like so many other comedic geniuses, a proud product of Chicago’s Second City. When we watched his movies – from “Animal House” and “Caddyshack” to “Ghostbusters” and “Groundhog Day” – we didn’t just laugh until it hurt. We questioned authority. We identified with the outsider. We rooted for the underdog. And through it all, we never lost our faith in happy endings. Our thoughts and prayers are with Harold’s wife, Erica, his children and grandchildren, and all those who loved him, who quote his work with abandon, and who hope that he received total consciousness.”
Rest in Peace Harold. Your legacy will continue to live on. Let’s all pop in a movie in his honor.