Tuesday, 25 February 2014

Harold Ramis: Ghostbusters star dies aged 69

Actor and director Harold Ramis, best known for the films Ghostbusters (1984) and Groundhog Day (1993), has died aged 69.

He died of autoimmune inflammatory vasculitis, a rare disease that involves swelling of the blood vessels, his agent told the BBC.

Although the star was best known as bespectacled ghost hunter Egon Spengler in the Ghostbusters franchise, he was also a talented writer and director, whose credits included Caddyshack (1980) and Animal House (1978).

"His creativity, compassion, intelligence, humour and spirit will be missed by all who knew and loved him," said his family in a statement.

The star had reportedly been quiet about his illness, which dated back to 2010.

But several friends are said to have visited him recently, including Bill Murray from whom he had been estranged for years, the Chicago Tribune said.

Ramis' death prompted an outpouring of tributes on Twitter.

Billy Crystal, who starred in the director's mobster comedies Analyze This (1999) and Analyze That (2002), wrote: "Sad to hear my friend Harold Ramis passed away.

"A brilliant, funny actor and director. A wonderful husband and dad. Big loss to us all."

Iron Man (2008) director Jon Favreau added: "No, no, not Harold Ramis. Worked for him years ago. He was the real deal. Growing up, his work changed my life. He will be missed."

Family Guy creator Seth McFarlane wrote: "Harold Ramis was a brilliant, shining example for every comedy writer hoping to achieve excellence [in] the field."

Born in Chicago to convenience store owners Ruth and Nathan, Ramis studied at Washington University in Missouri and, on graduation, briefly worked as an orderly on a psychiatric ward.

He started his career as a writer by penning arts stories for a local newspaper and editing Playboy magazine's 'party jokes' section.

"It was amazing how many of these jokes were written in pencil on three-ring notebook paper, or came from people who were incarcerated," he told The Chicago Reader. "It was also amazing how many of them dealt with farmers and farm animals.

"At the time - it was the late 1960s - the Playboy editors wanted to modernize the jokes a bit, to make them more counterculture. A big part of my job was changing 'the farmer' into 'a swinging advertising executive.'"

After leaving the magazine, he joined Chicago's renowned Second City improvised comedy troupe but said he realised his limitations as a performer after encountering John Belushi.

"When I saw how far he was willing to go to get a laugh or to make a point on stage, the language he would use, how physical he was, throwing himself literally off the stage, taking big falls, strangling other actors, I thought: 'I'm never going to be this big.'"

Instead, Ramis played the straight man – acting as a sardonic foil to Bill Murray in the army comedy Stripes (1981), and playing the puritanical, more scientific member of the Ghostbusters team.

The film became a global box office hit, and spawned an equally successful sequel in 1989, as well as a long running cartoon series. A third instalment had been in development for several years.

Ramis acknowledged that the spectral comedy was his most memorable work but took pride in its longevity.

"People love Ghostbusters in a really big way," he said in 2009. "Parents loved it for their kids. Teachers loved it."

"We got mail from teachers who said they loved that kids were playing Ghostbusters at recess because it was a non-violent game that didn't divide the kids into good guys and bad guys and the games were very co-operative. It's really had some power."

The film remains one of the most successful comedy films of all time, with takings of more than $500m (£300m) adjusted for inflation.

After the sequel, Ramis developed his career behind the camera, directing Bill Murray in Groundhog Day and Robert De Niro in Analyze This.

He said that his time on a psychiatric ward had prepared him for directing Hollywood's elite.

"People laugh when I say that, but it was actually very good training," he told journalist Mike Sacks. "Not just with actors; it was good training for just living in the world.

"It's knowing how to deal with people who might be reacting in a way that's connected to anxiety or grief or fear or rage. As a director, you're dealing with that constantly with actors. But if I were a businessman, I'd probably be applying those same principles to that line of work."

His other films included Bedazzled (2000), The Ice Harvest (2005), and prehistoric comedy Year One, his final movie, in 2009. More recently, he had directed episodes of NBC television's The Office.

"No matter what I have to say", he once declared, "I'm still trying to say it in comedic form."

Ramis also inspired a new generation of film makers, including Judd Apatow, who cast the director in his 2007 comedy Knocked Up.

He is survived by his wife, Erica, sons Julian and Daniel, daughter Violet and two grandchildren.

Our thoughts go out to his friends and family.

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