The Chicago Tribune reports that Harold Ramis — the director, writer, and actor behind some of Hollywood's all-time greatest comedies — died in Chicago of autoimmune inflammatory vasculitis. He was 69 years old.
It's hard to know where to begin when chronicling Ramis' contributions to American comedy. Is the best jumping-off point National Lampoon's Animal House, which he co-wrote (with a breakout role for his friend John Belushi) in 1976, or National Lampoon's Vacation, which he directed in 1983? How about Caddyshack, which he co-wrote and directed in 1980, or Ghostbusters, which he co-wrote and co-starred in with Dan Aykroyd in 1984? Or is it the hilarious, poignant Groundhog Day, which he wrote and directed in 1993?
How can you possibly choose? Taken alone, any one of those films would represent a towering and lasting accomplishment — taken together, they represent an amazingly accomplished and versatile body of work.
There are few younger comedians who weren't inspired by Ramis' work in the 1980s and 1990s, and many have since circled back to pay tribute, including Judd Apatow, who cast him in a small but pivotal role as Seth Rogen's father in 2007's Knocked Up. And Ramis' enthusiasm for comedy continued until the end of his life: After reprising the role of Egon Spengler in 2009's Ghostbusters: The Video Game, Ramis expressed interest in starring in a long-discussed third entry in the franchise. "We'll introduce some new young Ghostbusters, and all the old guys will be in it, too," he said to Heeb Magazine in 2009.
When asked for advice on filmmaking during an interview, Ramis responded with modesty. "It's very hard to give advice to people, 'cause the one thing I've noticed is that every successful person has followed a different and unique path," he said. "There's no way to account for the kinds of accidental connections you make in life, the people you bump into, the person you happen to be sitting next to in a film class. You want to be a filmmaker, he wants to be a screenwriter… 10 years from that day you met, he's a great screenwriter, you're ready to shoot a movie, he sends you his screenplay. You can't plan that. There's no way to plan it. It's almost like you have to live your life with a certain blind confidence. That if it's your destiny to succeed at these things, it will happen."