Shocking news for movie fans in Fresno today as legendary comedy actor, writer and director Harold Ramis was found dead today at the age of 69.
As reported by AOL.com, Ramis died early this morning of complications from vasculitis, which causes inflammation and damage to blood vessels, so said Chris Day, a spokesman at United Talent Agency. Ramis was surrounded by family and friends.
Ramis is a known icon to those of us who grew up in the 1970s and 1980s. His best-known film acting roles are as Egon Spengler in Ghostbusters (1984) and as Russell Ziskey in Stripes (1981), both of which were films he also co-wrote. He is also fondly remembered as the writer/director of the comedies Caddyshack (1980), National Lampoon's Vacation (1983), Groundhog Day (1993), and Analyze This (1999). Ramis was also the original head writer of the television series SCTV (in which he also performed), and was one of three screenwriters for the film National Lampoon's Animal House (1978).
As outlined by his Wikipedia page, Ramis was born November 21, 1944, in Chicago, Illinois, the son of Ruth and Nathan Ramis, shopkeepers who owned the store Ace Food & Liquor Mart on the city's far North Side. He graduated from Stephen K. Hayt Elementary School and Nicholas Senn High School in Chicago and, in 1966, from Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri, where he was a member of the Alpha Xi chapter of Zeta Beta Tau fraternity. He later worked at a mental institution in St. Louis for several months.
He had begun writing parodic plays in college, saying years later, "In my heart, I felt I was a combination of Groucho and Harpo Marx, of Groucho using his wit as a weapon against the upper classes, and of Harpo’s antic charm and the fact that he was oddly sexy — he grabs women, pulls their skirts off, and gets away with it". After avoiding the Vietnam War military draft by ingestion of methamphetamine to fail his draft physical, he married San Francisco, California artist Anne Plotkin in 1967, with whom he would have a daughter, Violet, and, years later, divorce.
Following his work in St. Louis, Ramis returned home to Chicago, where by 1968 he was working as a substitute teacher at the inner-city Robert Taylor Homes. He also became involved with the guerrilla television collective TVTV, headed by his college friend Michael Shamberg, and wrote freelance for the Chicago Daily News. He had also begun studying and performing with Chicago's Second City improvisational comedy troupe. Ramis's newspaper writing was successful enough to led him to becoming joke editor at Playboy.
Ramis left Second City for a time and later returned in 1972, having been replaced in the main cast by John Belushi, and worked his way back into Second City as Belushi's deadpan foil. In 1974, Belushi brought Ramis and other Second City performers, including Ramis's frequent future collaborator Bill Murray, to New York City to work together on the The National Lampoon Radio Hour, which ran November 1973 to December 1974.
It was during this time that Ramis, Belushi, Murray, Joe Flaherty, Christopher Guest, and Gilda Radner starred in the revue The National Lampoon Show, the successor to National Lampoon's Lemmings. Ramis later became a performer on, and head writer of, the late-night sketch-comedy television series SCTV during its first three years (1976–1979). Notable characterizations by Ramis on SCTV include corrupt Dialing for Dollars host/SCTV station manager Maurice "Moe" Green, amiable cop Officer Friendly, exercise guru Swami Bananananda, board chairman Allan "Crazy Legs" Hirschman, and home dentist Mort Finkel. He was also noted for his celebrity impressions on SCTV, including the like of Kenneth Clark and Leonard Nimoy.
He eventually left SCTV to pursue a film career and wrote a script with National Lampoon magazine's Douglas Kenney (and later a third collaborator, Chris Miller) that become National Lampoon's Animal House. The film followed the struggle between a rowdy college fraternity house and the college dean, and it's sense of humor was raunchy for its time. Animal House "broke all box-office records for comedies" and earned $141 million.
Ramis next co-wrote the comedy Meatballs, starring Bill Murray, which was a commercial success and became the first of six film collaborations between Murray and Ramis. His third film, and his directorial debut, was Caddyshack, which he co-wrote with Kenney and Brian Doyle-Murray. The film starred Chevy Chase, Rodney Dangerfield, Ted Knight, and Bill Murray. Like Ramis's previous two films, Caddyshack was also a commercial success.
In 1982, Ramis was attached to direct the film adaptation of the Pulitzer Prize-winning book A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole. The film was to star John Belushi and Richard Pryor, but the project was aborted.
In 1984, Ramis collaborated with Dan Aykroyd on the screenplay for Ghostbusters, which became one of the biggest comedy hits of the summer and of the 1980s overall. Ramis also starred in the film as Dr. Egon Spengler, a role he reprised for the 1989 sequel, Ghostbusters II (which he also co-wrote with Aykroyd). His later film Groundhog Day has been called "Ramis' masterpiece”.
Ramis's films were noted for attacking "the smugness of institutional life ... with an impish good [will] that is unmistakably American." His films are also noted for "Ramis's signature tongue-in-cheek pep talks”, in addition to sloppiness and improvisation, and for frequently depicting "anger, curiosity, laziness, and woolly idealism" in "a hyper-articulate voice."
In 2004, Ramis turned down the opportunity to direct the Bernie Mac-Ashton Kutcher film Guess Who, then under the working title "The Dinner Party", because he considered the film to be poorly written. That same year, Ramis began filming the low-budget The Ice Harvest, "his first attempt to make a comic film noir." The film received a mixed reaction. His typical directing fee, as of 2004, was $5 million.
In an interview in the documentary American Storytellers, Ramis said he hoped to make a film about Emma Goldman (even pitching Disney with the idea of having Bette Midler star), but that none of the movie studios were interested and that it would have been difficult to raise the funding.
Ramis said in 2009 he planned to make a third Ghostbusters film for release either in summer 2011 or for Christmas 2012. He did, however, reprise his role in a voice over capacity for 2009's Ghostbusters: The Video Game, to which he and Aykroyd contributed to the script. He also had a role in As Good as it Gets as Helen Hunt's son's doctor.
Ramis was married twice and had three children. After separating and later divorcing from his first wife Plotkin 1984, he married Erica Mann, the daughter of director Daniel Mann and actress Mary Kathleen Williams, in 1989. They had two sons Julian Arthur and Daniel Hayes.
In May 2010, Ramis contracted an infection that resulted in complications from the autoimmune disease vasculitis. He lost the ability to walk, but after relearning to do so, he suffered a relapse of the disease in late 2011. He tragically lost his battle and passed away today from complications arising from the disease.
Frequent collaborator Aykroyd issued a statement, saying he was "deeply saddened to hear of the passing of my brilliant, gifted, funny friend ... May he now get the answers he was always seeking."
He is survived by his second wife, Erica; sons Julian and Daniel; daughter, Violet, and two grandchildren.
This examiner would like to extend his condolences to Mr. Ramis's, family, friends, and fans as they go through the incredibly difficult time.