Harold Ramis, best-known for playing opposite Bill Murray in the eighties comedy hits “Stripes” and “Ghostbusters,” has died at the age of 69. Ramis succumbed to complications from autoimmune inflammatory vasculitis, a rare disease that involves swelling of the blood vessels, according to The Chicago Tribune. Ramis died at home in his native North Shore Chicago area, surrounded by his wife, Erica Mann Ramis, and family.
Ramis leaves behind a formidable body of work, including writing and directing, in addition to his on-screen performances. Ramis’ brand of comedy, often zany but intellectual, has long-influenced other writers and directors, including Judd Apatow and Adam Sandler.
Ramis graduated from Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri, where he began writing satiric plays. He returned to Chicago following graduation, where he worked as a substitute teacher and wrote freelance for The Chicago Daily News. He also became involved in the famous Second City improvisational comedy troupe, which was to become a steady source of talent for “Saturday Night Live.” The freelancing eventually led to his becoming joke editor for Playboy Magazine.
Along with Bill Murray, Ramis was recruited out of Second City to New York for “The National Lampoon Radio Hour” in the early seventies. During this time, Ramis, Murray, Belushi and Gilda Radner were all featured in “The National Lampoon Show.” Ramis would eventually leave the show, and with National Lampoon writer Douglas Kenney, wrote an early draft of what would eventually become “National Lampoon’s Animal House.”
That movie remains the gold standard by which all other shock comedies should be judged, put John Belushi on the feature film map, and made a ton of money in the process. Ramis also co-wrote “Meatballs,” which starred Bill Murray and established Ivan Reitman, a producer on “Animal House,” as a successful comedy director as well. On his third feature, “Caddyshack,” Ramis made his own directorial debut, in addition to co-writing the screenplay.
Ramis co-wrote “Stripes” in 1981, a service comedy which was directed by Reitman and in which Ramis co-starred opposite the top-billed Murray. Very successful at the box office, “Stripes” also featured supporting performances by the fast-rising John Candy, and unknowns John Larroquette, Sean Young and Judge Reinhold, in addition to recognizable faces like Warren Oates and P.J. Soles (“Carrie,” “Halloween,” “Rock ‘n’ Roll High School,” “Private Benjamin”).
Then came “Ghostbusters.” Ramis was again co-writer on an Ivan Reitman directorial outing, and co-starred with Bill Murray, Dan Aykroyd, Sigourney Weaver, Rick Moranis, Ernie Hudson, Annie Potts and William Atherton. Admitting to some personal bias, the supernatural comedy thriller is one of the best movies ever made in any genre and this writer is pathologically incapable of turning it off when it makes one of its regular cable appearances.
Ramis followed the megahit with the screenplay to “Back to School,” starring Rodney Dangerfield, the screenplay to “Club Paradise” (which he also directed), which starred Robin Williams, Peter O’Toole and Rick Moranis, and “Armed and Dangerous,” which starred John Candy.
Ramis’ next directorial outing was probably his best. In 1993, he directed “Groundhog Day,” from a script by Danny Rubin which Ramis rewrote. Bill Murray starred. The film, about an arrogant TV weatherman (Murray), on location in Punxsatawney, Pennsylvania to cover the Groundhog Day festivities, who mysteriously finds himself reliving the same day over and over. Reportedly, Ramis and Murray had a falling out during production which kept the two estranged for years.
Ramis also co-wrote and directed the remake of “Bedazzled,” “Analyze This” and “Analyze That,” and numerous episodes of the TV show “The Office.” He contracted autoimmune inflammatory vasculitis in 2010, which had curtailed his productivity. Nonetheless, he had expressed interest in being involved in the long-gestating “Ghostbusters III” at Columbia.