Harold Ramis, the estimable comedy writer, director and actor whose resume includes “Groundhog Day,” “Ghostbusters,” “Animal House,” “Caddyshack” and “National Lampoon’s Vacation,” died on Monday at age 69.
The Chicago Tribune reports that the cause of death was complications from autoimmune inflammatory vasculitis, a disease that involves the swelling of the blood vessels. He was surrounded by friends and family in Chicago, where he was born and where he and his wife have lived since 1996.
A veteran of the seminal comedy entities Second City and National Lampoon, Ramis had a remarkable run of canonical hits in the 1980s, which helped introduce anarchic sketch comedy techniques into mainstream film and proved an incalculable influence on a generation of comedy auteurs. Ramis was equally comfortable behind the camera and in front of it; his work ranged from charmingly vulgar Rodney Dangerfield vehicles to the blockbuster sci-fi spectacle “Ghostbusters” and the genuine, unpretentious existential profundity of “Groundhog Day.”
“Deeply saddened to hear of the passing of my brilliant, gifted, funny friend, co-writer, performer and teacher Harold Ramis,” said Ramis’ “Ghostbusters” co-star and co-writer Dan Aykroyd. “May he now get the answers he was always seeking.”
Actor-musician Jack Black, who worked with Ramis on films including “Year One” — Ramis’ final film as a writer-director — and “Orange County,” echoed these thoughts, saying, “Harold was a force of good in the universe. So funny, sweet and thoughtful. He will be deeply missed.”
Actress Andie MacDowell, who starred in the Ramis-directed “Groundhog Day” and “Multiplicity,” called Ramis “the kindest of any director with whom I have worked. And, he was a genius. Aside from his amazing talent, he could do the New York Times crossword puzzle faster than anyone I have ever known or met.”
Born in Chicago, Ramis studied at Washington U. in St. Louis and in 1969 joined Second City, where he worked and performed with frequent collaborators Bill Murray and John Belushi. After stints as a substitute teacher, a freelance journalist and a writer at Playboy, Ramis joined the writing staff of “The National Lampoon Radio Hour” in the mid-1970s and later became head writer of Second City’s groundbreaking Canadian sketch comedy skein “SCTV.”
Ramis’ first produced feature screenplay (co-written with Chris Miller and Douglas Kenney) was the 1978 John Landis-directed “National Lampoon’s Animal House,” which launched Belushi’s film career. The second-highest-grossing film of the year, “Animal House” marked the beginning of a remarkable winning streak for multihyphenate Ramis, who would go on to be involved with an almost dizzying number of hit comedies over the next several years.
Ramis made his directorial debut in 1980 with “Caddyshack.” It featured Murray, who had starred in the Ramis-written “Meatballs” a year prior, and with whom Ramis would work repeatedly over the years, including the following year’s “Stripes,” which featured the two as co-stars.
“National Lampoon’s Vacation” (1983), which Ramis directed from a script by John Hughes, was a franchise-launching hit that would be followed a year later by an even bigger one. Co-scripted by and starring Ramis, “Ghostbusters” grossed nearly $300 million worldwide and spawned a sequel and two animated TV spinoffs.
“Club Paradise” (1986) was one of Ramis’ rare directorial misfires, though he co-wrote the Dangerfield smash “Back to School” and the underappreciated “Armed and Dangerous” the same year.
The Murray-starring “Groundhog Day,” which Ramis directed and co-wrote in 1993, was a solid performer upon release, though its reputation has blossomed over the decades since, with some considering it Ramis’ masterpiece. The WGA placed it at No. 27 on its 2013 list of the 101 greatest screenplays ever written, and the National Film Preservation Board selected it for preservation by the Library of Congress in 2006.
Ramis’ later work included writing and directing the Billy Crystal-Robert De Niro hits “Analyze This” (1999) and sequel “Analyze That” (2002), as well as directing the Michael Keaton comedy “Multiplicity,” and “Stuart Saves His Family,” which was based on Al Franken’s “Saturday Night Live” character Stuart Smalley. Ramis also limned roles in 1994’s “Airheads,” 1997’s “As Good as It Gets” and 2007’s “Knocked Up.”