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Harold Ramis spent almost his entire life making people laugh. For more than forty years, he churned out hysterical screenplays, collaborated with the titans of showbusiness and directed some of the most beloved comedies ever made. Sadly, at the age of 69, that brilliant ride is now over.
Details are still very fuzzy at this point, but according to TMZ, he passed away at his Chicago home from autoimmune inflammatory vasculitis early this morning after a multi-year fight with the illness. His family was there at the time, including his longtime wife Erica who he married in 1989.
After writing plays in college, Ramis got his start working for the Chicago Daily News and contributing to Second City. From there, he was hired as Playboy’s joke editor and later worked alongside John Belushi and Bill Murray on The National Lampoon Radio Hour. That job turned into head writer of SCTV, which turned into a screenplay co-writer for Animal House.
During the years that followed, Ramis either directed or at least co-wrote Meatballs, Caddyshack, Stripes, Ghostbusters, Groundhog Day and Analyze This, and in doing so, he gained a reputation as one of the most brilliant comedy minds working in the industry. He also proved a major influence on a ton of burgeoning directors, including Judd Apatow who cast him as Ben’s dad in Knocked Up.
Ramis’ first effort as a director, Caddyshack, was so troubled he was almost replaced partway through. Thankfully, the studio stuck with him, and it helped him to learn something important that he carried with him the rest of his career. Making a comedy isn’t about experience or camera tricks. It’s about giving funny people, funny material. It’s about giving them a great premise from which they can prove how brilliant they really are. It's about giving them space to do their jobs, even if that means letting them making weird noises or talk out of the sides of their mouths. So, throughout his career, Ramis took great pains to incorporate as many battle-tested performers as he could, even if he could only get them for six days, as was the case with Murray in Caddyshack.
Ramis was a brilliant director, a skilled writer, a family man and by all accounts, a hell of a nice guy. His shadow will linger over Hollywood for decades to come.