Yesterday morning, the world lost a truly amazing talent, a comic genius and an all-around great person—actor, writer and director Harold Ramis—who passed away from complications resulting from autoimmune inflammatory vasculitis, a condition he battled for years. He was 69 years old.
Many remember Ramis as the quirky and nerdy Dr. Egon Spengler from two of his best known films, Ghostbusters and Ghostbusters II. Others remember him as the foil to Bill Murray in Stripes, another Ramis classic. But the man who appeared on-screen was only a small part of who Ramis really was— it was his off-screen success that truly changed the face of comedy.
Ramis’ journey to comic greatness began in the late 1960s and early 1970s. After working a variety of jobs—as a substitute school teacher, freelance writer for the Chicago Daily News and joke editor for Playboy magazine—he began studying and performing with Chicago’s Second City improvisational comedy troupe. Ramis left the troupe briefly and was replaced by another famous comedy performer—the great John Belushi—but returned in 1972 with friend and collaborator Bill Murray.
Together with Belushi, Murray and others—among them Christopher Guest and Gilda Radner—Ramis starred in The National Lampoon Show and eventually became a performer and head writer for SCTV, a direct competitor of another well-known comedy show, Saturday Night Live. And though acting would always have a place in his life, it was writing and directing that truly showcased Ramis’ talents.
Among the films Ramis is best known for—aside from those already mentioned—are some of my favorite comedies of all time: National Lampoon’s Animal House, Groundhog Day, Meatballs, Back to School, Caddyshack, National Lampoon’s Vacation and Club Paradise, to name a few. And with a resume like that, how could he not be great?
Ramis’ long-time friend and colleague—Dan Aykroyd—reacted to the news of his death on Facebook: “Deeply saddened to hear of the passing of my brilliant, gifted, funny friend, co-writer/performer and teacher Harold Ramis. May he now get the answers he was always seeking.” Steve Carell worked with Ramis on The Office and described him as “funny, gracious [and] kind-hearted,” all words that only scratch the surface of this great man and the joy he brought to so many.
Yes, Monday was a sad day for entertainment, but I feel an even deeper sense of loss since I grew up with Harold Ramis and his films. And I’m sure there are plenty of others who feel the same. It’s always sad to lose a great talent—especially one who brought laughter into the lives of so many—but it’s worse to lose a great human being… and that’s precisely what Harold Ramis was.
Rest in peace, my friend. I miss you already.