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Harold Ramis, Director of ‘Caddyshack’ and Star of ‘Ghostbusters,’ Dead at Age 69

Harold Ramis, the star of ‘Ghostbusters,’ writer of ‘Animal House’ and director of ‘Caddyshack’ and ‘Groundhog Day,’ has died at the age of 69 in Chicago. Ramis had been suffering from autoimmune inflammatory vasculitis and had been in declining health since 2010.

While most will remember Ramis for one of his few starring roles, as Egon Spangler in ‘Ghostbusters,’ his work behind the camera reads like a list of modern comedy classics. He wrote ‘Animal House,’ ‘Meatballs,’ ‘Stripes’ and ‘Ghostbusters’. He directed ‘Vacation,’ ‘Groundhog Day,’ ‘Caddyshack’ and ‘Analyze This.’ Most writers, directors or actors would be lucky to have one of those films on his resume – he had all of them.

Ramis began studying and performing and Chicago’s legendary Second City in the 60s and 70s (when he left, he was replaced by John Belushi) and eventually became a performer and the head writer for SCTV. There he would meet some of his most frequent collaborators, including Bill Murray (they would go on to work together six times over the years, but had a falling out during the making of ‘Groundhog Day’ that was tragically never resolved).

UPDATE: Bill Murray has issued a statement saying:

Harold Ramis and I together did the National Lampoon Show off Broadway, Meatballs, Stripes, Caddyshack, Ghostbusters and Groundhog Day. He earned his keep on this planet. God bless him.

While SCTV never quite reached the cultural landmark status of an ‘SNL,’ it was – with John Candy, Martin Short, Dave Thomas, Rick Moranis and others – just as important and influential. The show’s aesthetic – sketch comedy with a thematic narrative thread – inspired almost all future comedy troupes from Upright Citizen’s Brigade (which, coincidentally, now inspires ‘SNL’) to ‘The State.’

Ramis eventually left Second City to work on the script for ‘Animal House’ and when that film became a huge success in 1978, he moved to Hollywood to continue his career as a writer and director, making his directorial debut on 1980′s ‘Caddyshack.’

Prior to his death, Judd Apatow would say of Ramis, “His work is the reason why so many of us got into comedy. He literally made every single one of our favorite movies.” (Apatow would later cast him in a supporting role in ‘Knocked Up’ as Seth Rogen’s father.)

If Ramis’ legacy was built on just one movie – whether it’d be ‘Ghostbusters’ or ‘Animal House’ or Groundhog Day’ – we would be celebrating him and mourning his loss greatly. That he is responsible for all those and so many more comedy classics makes his loss feel almost immeasurable. We rarely look a list of the greatest film directors and think of those who worked in comedy, but it’s hard not to look back at Ramis and his creative work and not think that he was one of the most important and influential figures in modern movies.

Ramis is survived by his wife Erica and three children.

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