Comedy nerds across the globe are in mourning after learning that comedy actor, writer and director Harold Ramis has died at the age of 69. The news comes as quite a shock to the many writers and comedians who admired his long body of work. Apparently, he had been feeling ill for a long time.
According to his obituary in his hometown Chicago paper, he suffered from an autoimmune disease that caused swelling of the blood vessels since 2010, an illness that almost crippled him. He relapsed in 2011 and suffered from complications of his disease up until his passing early Monday morning.
However, let’s not dwell on the man’s passing but rather the body of work he gave to the world and what a body of work it was. Without Ramis’ vision and comedic drive, we would not have some of the greatest and most well-loved comedies of all time. Like most of the greats in his time, Ramis’ first comedy writing job was for Playboy Magazine before joining Chicago’s famed Second City theater in the 70’s alongside such famous names as John Belushi and Bill Murray. He followed Belushi and Murray to New York to write the famed National Lampoon Radio Hour along with other future Saturday Night Live stars such as Gilda Radner.
That lead two of big jobs that would kickstart his illustrious comedy writing career: He became the head writer for the acclaimed sketch TV show SCTV and helped write the central story and script for National Lampoon’s Animal House.
He preferred to stay behind the camera, a lesson he said learned while on stage with the zany Belushi at Second City. However, his bookish look and round glasses did help him score some memorable roles in comedies that he helped write such as Russell Ziskey in the military comedy Stripes.
Of course, he’s best remembered in front of the camera as the extremely serious paranormal scientist Egon Spengler in the mega hit Ghostbusters, another movie he helped write with the film’s director Ivan Reitman.
His directing efforts also gave us some of the most memorable and shared comedy movies of our time starting with Caddyshack in 1980, National Lampoon’s Vacation in 1983 and 1999’s Analyze This. However, not even those hits reached the acclaim and reverence that he achieved with the brilliant Groundhog Day in 1993 in which Murray plays a self-centered weatherman forced to relive the same day over and over again.
He continued to write and direct in his later years with movies that weren’t as successful like The Ice Harvest and Year One but he seemed to prefer serving as more of a mentor to up and coming actors, writers and directors. He made cameos in Judd Apatow’s Knocked Up and Stephen Frears’ High Fidelity, the latter of which didn’t make it into the final film. His production assistant called him “the world’s best mentor” after he encouraged her to move to California to pursue her dream and even sealed the deal by offering to cover her expenses. It’s an understatement that he’ll be missed for more than just the comedy he provided to the world.