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Tania is currently the Founder & Editor-in-Chief of The Hudsucker, and Senior Editor at the Nashville, Tennessee based PopCulture.com. With past writing and editing credits with Womanista, Quietly, the International Women's Media Foundation (IWMF) and NBC Newsvine, she is currently a member of Indianapolis based, Society of Professional Journalists — one of the oldest organizations in the U.S. that promotes and represents journalists. She is an avid Indianapolis Colts, Elvis Presley and baseball fan as well as a lover of pancakes and fine cheeses, film, and music. Tania is a Hoosier at heart with a passionate wanderlust for always traveling and giving back to those in her community. She is currently studying at Ball State University in Muncie, Indiana. Follow Tania on Twitter: @westlifebunny.

A Comedic Pioneer: Saying Goodbye to Harold Ramis

Harold Ramis 04

Image Credit: Psychology Today

It’s been said that laughter is the shortest distance between two people. With such a thought in mind, one can never forget the bridge comedic genius Harold Ramis built, as he brought audiences together and helped define wise-cracking comedy for generations to come. Ramis, who was best known for his roles in Ghostbusters, Stripes; and director and writer of such classic comedies such as Caddyshack and Groundhog Day, passed away peacefully at the age of 69 early Monday from complications related to auto-immune inflammatory vasculitis; a rare disease he battled for four years. The disease which initially began from an infection in 2010, involves a swelling of the blood vessels. The disease depleted Ramis’ condition over the years, forcing him to learn how to re-walk in late 2011 after suffering a relapse. In a statement released by United Talent Agency, Ramis was surrounded by family and friends in his Chicago area home, where he and his wife Erica Mann Ramis lived since 1996.

Harold Ramis and his distinctly wise and hyper-active sense of humor injected life into the age-old screwball humor from the past into the 1970s and 1980s, ultimately paving the way for mainstream comedies today. Ramis’ films have been beloved by many and continue to age exactly like wine through the chuckles and adoration they still anchor in today.

Bill Murray pictured with Harold Ramis in a production still for the 1981 army comedy, Stripes. // Image Credit: Columbia Pictures

Harold Ramis will always be remembered as one of the comedy legends—he was a giant in his own right. The Chicago born native was an acclaimed talent, earning a Bachelor’s Degree from Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri and getting his start in the late 60s as a performer at Chicago’s Second City theater troupe. Soon after, he became head writer on Second City Television, known popularly as SCTV, airing NBC, Global and later, transitioning in Canada to the CBC. It was Ramis’ knack for sharp comedy that garnered him his first big Hollywood breakthrough in 1978 when he co-wrote National Lampoon’s Animal House, starring fellow SCTV co-star, John Belushi who catapulted to fame soon after.

Ramis would co-write the screenplay for 1979’s Meatballs and become well acquainted with both director Ivan Reitman, and actor Bill Murray (the three of them would team up again in 1984 for Ghostbusters). A year later, Ramis got his own directorial debut in 1980 with the sports comedy Caddyshack, a film that boosted stand-up comic, Rodney Dangerfield’s career. Three years later, Ramis found further success with his sophomore directed film, National Lampoon’s VacationCritics would soon grasp onto the fetching humor Ramis showcased in his work through his unique writing and directing. His work was often regarded as wild, silly, and in some ways reminiscent of a Marx Brothers film; tilting toward anarchy as seen in a classic like Stripes, an army comedy in which he and Murray play slackers who enlist in the service but manage to get into a decent amount of trouble. These very films each became incredibly iconoclastic, with Ramis even admitting to Psychology Today in a 1996 interview that his early works were institutional comedies with a focus on cerebral comedy; instilling intelligence to the viewer, while proving that broad comedy isn’t necessarily dumb comedy.

“You’re on pretty safe ground when you’re dealing with an institution that vast numbers of people have experienced: college, summer camp, the military, the country club. I didn’t belong to a country club, but I had enough feelings about them. You can’t not have feelings about country clubs, whichever side you’re on,” Ramis said.

Ramis directing The Ice Harvest in 2005. // Image Credit: Focus Features

Throughout his career, Ramis would add screenwriting, directing, producing and acting credits into his mix. His best-loved roles would include the straight-laced Dr. Egon Spengler in Reitman’s Ghostbusters (1984) and Ghostbusters II (1989) alongside Murray; and the philosophical comedy classic he wrote and directed in 1993 called Groundhog Day starring his ‘ghostbusting’ pal.

In recent years, Ramis’ credits would include small cameos in Orange CountyKnocked Up, and Year Oneas well as directing The Ice Harvest and Analyze This (and That); as well as four episodes of NBC’s hit comedy, The Office. While there were many talks over the years of a sequel to Ghostbusters II, Ramis and Dan Aykroyd were hard at work writing a script, with Aykroyd admitting in 2012 to Empire Magazine, “The script must be perfect. We cannot release a film that is any less than that. We have more work to do.”

Earlier this afternoon,  Aykroyd shared with fans and followers his thoughts over at Facebook regarding Ramis’ passing, saying he was, “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.”

Ramis is survived by his wife Erica, sons Julian and Daniel, daughter Violet and two grandchildren. Ramis’ daughter Violet told The Chicago Tribune that, “He was like the campfire that we all gathered around for light and warmth and knowledge”; with his wife Erica adding, “That’s the truth.”

As he defined the comedic tastes for a hungry generation, Ramis created quite the effect on American film humor than just about anyone else in these past few decades. He went on to win numerous awards for his work, including the American Comedy Award, the British Comedy Award, and the BAFTA award for Screenwriting.

Ramis was known to be ever kind and helpful, as Laurel Ward (VP of Development for Ramis’ production company, Ocean Pictures) shared with The Chicago Tribune that he was the “world’s best mentor.” She recalls the time when she first began working for him nearly 15 years ago as his assistant. Ramis had to be in California for a month, and told her that even though he didn’t need any help at the time, he would cover her expenses if she came along as it would provide her with a good experience in the field. Ward goes on to saying, “He just did it for me. He loved teaching people. He loved helping people. He loved seeing people succeed.”

There truly are no words to express the passing of Harold Ramis and the affect it has on me personally. He was a trailblazer who brought dexterity to silly comedy, form to rebellion, and enjoyed the modern comedic stylings just as much as the screwball classics. With such an abundant filmography, it might be unfair to pin his career down to one film but Ramis really is best known as Dr. Egon Spengler to millions of kids who grew up in the 1980s and believed in Ghostbusters. I was one of those fortunate kids who got to live the first generation of such a phenomenal film, and one that truly stands the test of time even today. No film means so much to me like this one. I am still one of the biggest Ghostbuster fans I know (besides my best friend who has one up on me and started his own paranormal group). I was that little girl who wasn’t afraid of any ghosts because I believed in the four ‘Busters, the very same way kids my age believed in Santa Claus. I took the Ghostbusters with me everywhere I go. Very proudly and perhaps pompously, I would ride my bike that was riddled in Ghostbusters memorabilia collected from McDonald’s (I still have all of them to this day) around town and return home to play with my Ghostbuster action figures, while singing the film’s theme song to my Ghostbusters II glow-in-the-dark movie poster. Venkman, Stantz, Winston, and Spengler—each one of Ghostbusters meant everything to me, and they still do to this day.

Ramis as Dr. Egon Spengler in 1984’s Ghostbusters // Image Credit: Columbia Pictures

Growing up, I was heavily influenced by Ramis’ films and never even realized it until I got older. I was the kid who came back from kindergarten and would pop Back to School into the VCR much to my mother’s upset; or turn on SCTV and wondering if I too could be a “stethocopologist” (try spelling that when you’re five years old); or watching National Lampoon’s Vacation and always, always worrying about the dog’s dark demise. Nonetheless, I would grow up with these films and find great comfort in the hilarity and hi-jinks these adroitly built characters would go through. In the literal sense, these films brought me great laughs and turned the occasional frown upside down. All the while, little did I know these were films had the Ramis touch. For example, Animal House, a comedy classic in its own right stands as the sole victor of college comedies today and is one of my all-time favorites—one that I grew very charmed with during my time in high school. It really is a film everyone could love and laugh out loud at. The film even turned out to be one the biggest-grossing comedies of that time, paving the way for similar styles in the genre.

My own sense of humor formed from films Ramis has either starred in, written, or directed and I’m very lucky because his comedic stylings were smart, snappy, and incredibly wise. Chances are if you love good, genuinely smart comedy, you will really love the classics Ramis has created or starred in. As Judd Apatow puts it, “He literally made every single one of our favorite movies.”

Harold Ramis is and will always be an on-screen delight, leaving us behind with incomparable works of influential comedies from the late 20th century. His films are remarkable because they continue to stay relevant with the times, while withholding the industry’s genre as new generations come to appreciate solid, clever humor; wishing to become better acquainted with the genre’s seminal predecessor who made comedy what it is today. In many ways, the laughs won’t be the same without Harold Ramis. 

Harold Ramis
November 21, 1944 – February 24, 2014

What has been your favorite Harold Ramis film that he either starred in, wrote, or directed? Let us know in the comments below.

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  1. A Comedic Pioneer: Saying Goodbye to Harold Ramis | westlifebunny - February 24, 2014

    […] Continue reading… […]

  2. Celebrating 30 Years with “Ghostbusters” | The Hudsucker - June 6, 2014

    […] Such plans met with a bump when earlier this year, the Ghostbusters community mourned the loss of Harold Ramis who passed away from complications of autoimmune inflammatory vasculitis. His passing and the […]

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