The very soul of warmth, wit, humanity and humour, Harold Ramis spent his career making us laugh while at the same time, inspiring and encouraging a wealth of other talent. It’s all the more sad, then, to report that he has died at the age of 69.
A Chicago native and lifelong fan of the city, Ramis was born to shop owners in 1944. Before he started his career as a writer, he worked at a mental institution for several months, citing it genuinely as good experience for his later efforts in Hollywood.
After a stint as a substitute teacher and working with guerrilla comedy collective TVTV, he wrote freelance for the Chicago Daily News in the 1960s and editing Playboy Magazine’s Party Jokes section even as began his time with the legendary Second City comedy troupe. He left the company briefly, but returned and began working alongside the likes of John Belushi, quickly establishing himself as a fantastic writer and excellent supporting performer before becoming an actor and head writer on the troupe’s SCTV series.
From there, he starred in The National Lampoon show with Belushi and fellow Second City alumnus Bill Murray, which opened the door to films, with Ramis co-writing National Lampoon’s Animal House. The movie smashed box office records and cemented Ramis’ burgeoning career.
He co-wrote Meatballs, which Murray starred in, starting a strong partnership between the two. Ramis followed that with his directorial debut, Caddyshack, featuring Murray and a host of other funny folk. After an unsuccessful attempt to adapt John Kennedy Toole’s brilliant A Confederacy Of Dunces, Ramis began work with Dan Aykroyd on a little passion project of the actor’s called Ghostbusters.
In 1984, with Ramis and Aykroyd co-starring alongside Murray, it became one of the biggest hits of the year, and remains one of the highest grossing comedy films ever made - not to mention one of the best movies ever created. Ghostbusters II followed in 1989. Alongside the first outing for Spengler and co, most credit Groundhog Day, which Ramis wrote and directed for Murray, to be perhaps his crowning achievement.
But those are simply the tip of the iceberg in a career that also includes either writing, acting or directing such films as Multiplicity, Analyze This, As Good As It Gets, Back To School, Stripes, Knocked Up, Year One, National Lampoon's Vacation and The Ice Harvest. More recently, Ramis turned his directorial eye to shows including the US version of The Office.
Ramis moved back to his beloved Chicago in 1996, but continued to work until 2010 when he was diagnosed with an infection that led to complications related to autoimmune inflammatory vasculitis. Friends, including Murray, came to visit him as he struggled with his condition, and he finally succumbed on Monday morning surrounded by his wife and family, including his three children.
"He was like the campfire that we all gathered around for light and warmth and knowledge," his daughter Violet Stiel told The Chicago Tribune. It poured from every frame of his work into the wider world, and we’ll all miss that.