Born in Chicago in 1944, Harold Ramis is known for creating and starring in some of the most successful comedies of all time, including Caddyshack, Ghostbusters, Groundhog Day and Knocked Up. Ramis died on February 24, 2014, at age 69.
Famed actor, writer, director and producer Harold Allen Ramis was born on November 21, 1944, in Chicago, Illinois. Known for both creating and starring in some of the most beloved comedies of the 1970s and '80s, including National Lampoon's Animal House (1978), Caddyshack (1980) and Ghostbusters (1984), Ramis admired such comedians as the Marx Brothers, Sid Caesar, Ernie Kovacs and Steve Allen while growing up in Chicago. A good student, he was selected as a National Merit Scholar while in high school.
In 1967, Ramis graduated from Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri, earning a degree in English literature. After a string of jobs, including as a substitute teacher, he landed a position at Playboy magazine as a jokes editor. He eventually became an associate editor at the publication, but left to join the famous improvisational comedy troupe Second City in 1969.
While with Second City, Harold Ramis became known for his sharp intellect and quick ad-libs. (Other distinguished performers in the troupe during this time include John Belushi, Bill Murray and Brian Doyle Murray.) By the mid-1970s, Ramis had joined Second City's television show, SCTV, as a writer and performer. He worked with a number of other comic talents on the show, including John Candy and Eugene Levy.
One of Ramis's biggest breaks as a writer came in the late 1970s. Working with Chris Miller and Doug Kenney, he co-wrote the screenplay for the hit college comedy National Lampoon's Animal House (1978), starring John Belushi and directed by John Landis. Ramis then co-wrote one of the most popular comedies of the summer of '79—Meatballs, a humorous look at a dysfunctional summer camp starring Bill Murray.
Ramis made his directorial debut in 1980 with Caddyshack. Starring veteran stand-up performer Rodney Dangerfield, the comedy pokes fun at a posh country club and its snooty members. In addition to his directing duties, Ramis wrote the film's script with Doug Kenney and Brian Doyle-Murray. Stepping in front of the camera the following year, Ramis co-starred with Bill Murray in the military send-up Stripes (1981); he played the best friend of Murray's character, who joins the Army with him, in the film.
Murray and Ramis went to work together again, battling the supernatural with Dan Aykroyd in Ghostbusters (1984). In perhaps one of his best-known roles, Ramis played the super intellectual Dr. Egon Spengler in the film (Murray and Aykroyd played the two other scientists with whom Spengler forms a company to remove unwanted ghosts from people's homes). Behind the scenes, Ramis worked with Aykroyd on the film's script. All three actors participated in the 1989 sequel.
Ramis went on to write or co-write a number of other comedic screenplays, including Back to School (1986), starring Rodney Dangerfield; Club Paradise (1986), starring Robin Williams; and Armed and Dangerous (1986), starring John Candy and Eugene Levy. While Back to School had some commercial success, both Club Paradise (which Ramis also directed) and Armed and Dangerous were box-office disappointments.
Maturing as a writer and director in the '90s, Ramis created the more sophisticated comedy Groundhog Day, released in 1993. The film starred Bill Murray as a weather reporter sent to Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania, to cover the city's Groundhog Day festivities, who ends up forced to relive that day over and over again. Along for the ride are his producer (played by Andy McDowell) and cameraman (Chris Elliott). While very humorous, the film also presents an intriguing, dramatic transformation of Murray's character.
As a director, Ramis tackled more comedies in the late '90s with mixed results. Both Stuart Saves His Family (1995) and Multiplicity (1996) were critical and commercial duds, but he went on to direct and co-write the screenplay for Analyze This (1999), a smart comedy about a gangster (Robert De Niro) and his psychiatrist (Billy Crystal). He later directed and co-wrote the screenplay for the film's 2002 sequel, Analyze That.
Later Years and Legacy
Ramis continued to act, write and direct for a variety of projects in his later years. In 2007, he appeared as the father of Seth Rogen's character in the comedy smash Knocked Up and had a small role in the musical biopic spoof Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story, starring John C. Reilly. He then served as director and co-writer of the ancient world comedy Year One (2009), starring Jack Black and Michael Cera. Ramis also had a small role in the film.
Ramis died on February 24, 2014. He was 69 years old. He was survived by wife Erica Mann (m. 1989); their two sons, Julian and Daniel; and his daughter, Violet, from his first marriage to Anne Plotkin; and two grandchildren.
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