Influential comedy writer, actor, and director Harold Ramis passed away today at the age of 69, The Chicago Tribune reports. Ramis, who wrote, directed, and acted in countless hit comedies, died from complications related to autoimmune inflammatory vasculitis, a rare disease involving the swelling of blood vessels. He died surrounded by friends and family at 12:53am. Ramis’s serious health problems began in 2010, but he kept quiet about his illness publicly. Prior to his death, he was visited by frequent collaborators Brian Doyle-Murray and Bill Murray, having been estranged from the latter for years. Ramis is survived by wife Erica Mann Ramis, daughter Violet Stiel, sons Julian and Daniel Ramis and two grandchildren. A private service is being set up for this week, and a public memorial is being planned for May in Ramis’s native Chicago.
Ramis got his start at Chicago’s famed Second City theater in the late ‘60s, where he worked alongside John Belushi, Bill Murray, Gilda Radner, John Candy, Catherine O’Hara, Joe Flaherty, Brian Doyle-Murray, and more. Ramis stuck with that group, working on The National Lampoon Radio Hour and the live show The National Lampoon Show with many of them before jumping to television as a cast member and the original head writer on beloved and long-running sketch show SCTV. Ramis was part of the show’s original cast, acting alongside Candy, Flaherty, O’Hara, Eugene Levy, Andrea Martin, and Dave Thomas, before departing after its third season and tackling the movie world.
He found success with movies quickly too, writing, directing, and/or starring in some of his generation’s most popular big-screen comedies. After co-writing hits Animal House and Meatballs and following those up by directing his first movie, Caddyshack, Ramis played deadpan sidekick to Bill Murray in Stripes and both Ghostbusters, having co-written all three movies.
His performance as Egon Spengler in Ghostbusters is easily Ramis’s most notable acting role, but he continued to make big movies as a writer-director for decades. Ramis also directed the first National Lampoon’s Vacation, co-wrote and directed Groundhog Day, Analyze This, and many more, before finding success recently as a TV director, helming many of The Office’s best-known episodes. Groundhog Day, probably his greatest movie, earned him a BAFTA Award but was deserving of so much more.
In Harold Ramis’s final movie as a director, the critically-panned biblical comedy Year One, he had a cameo as Adam, the first human. I’m not sure if the cameo was an intentional winking reference to his wide sphere of influence in the comedy world, but it’s pretty accurate as you’ll see by the outpouring of memorial tweets from his colleagues and filmmakers who he influenced. Harold Ramis was the Adam of modern comedy.