RIP: Why We Loved Harold Ramis, Briefly

By now, you may have heard that Harold Ramis, Ghostbusters actor and director of Caddyshack, among many things, died today at the age of 69.

Ramis, a longtime North Shore resident, was surrounded by family when he died at 12:53 a.m. from complications of autoimmune inflammatory vasculitis, a rare disease that involves swelling of the blood vessels, his wife Erica Mann Ramis said. He was 69.

Ramis’ serious health struggles began in May 2010 with an infection that led to complications related to the autoimmune disease, his wife said. Ramis had to relearn to walk but suffered a relapse of the vaculitis in late 2011, said Laurel Ward, vice president of development at Ramis’ Ocean Pictures production company. [ChicagoTribune]

Ramis is one of those guys who was so successful in so many different areas that it’s hard to choose just one identifier for a headline. “Ghostbusters actor Harold Ramis…” “Caddyshack director Harold Ramis…” They’re all true and all impressive yet woefully inadequate. Some of Ramis’s greatest hits, to me (in no particular order):

1. Director of Caddyshack

2. Co-writer and director of Groundhog Day (!!!)

3. Ghostbusters actor and co-writer

4. Director of the criminally underrated Multiplicity

5. Guy who played Seth Rogen’s dad in Knocked Up

6. Actor, co-writer, Stripes

7. Director, National Lampoon’s Vacation

8. Co-writer, Animal House

And on and on. He did a lot of more important, influential stuff than play Seth Rogen’s dad in Knocked Up, but that role permanently lodged in my brain as one of my favorite “likable dad” performances in all of cinema. It felt like a real father-son interaction, which is a hard thing to pull off. And it seemed like a performance that was fairly close to his actual personality (that might not be true at all, but good performances have a way of feeling like that).

“When I was 15, I interviewed Harold for my high school radio station, and he was the person that I wanted to be when I was growing up,” said Apatow, who later would cast Ramis as Seth Rogen’s father in “Knocked Up” and would produce Ramis’ final movie, “Year One” (1999). “His work is the reason why so many of us got into comedy. We grew up on ‘Second City TV’ and ‘Ghostbusters,’ ‘Vacation,’ ‘Animal House,’ ‘Stripes,’ ‘Meatballs’ (which Ramis co-wrote); he literally made every single one of our favorite movies.” [Tribune]

I actually met Harold Ramis once, briefly, back in  2009, at the premiere of Year One, the last feature Ramis directed. The film was not destined for broad success, obviously, but two things about him stuck out for me. First, he had a giant head, with pointed incisors and a flowing, wavy grey mane that made him remind me of a jovial lion. Second, his introduction of the movie was probably the most charming director’s introduction of a film I’ve ever seen. I couldn’t tell you if it was something he was born with or just the kind of stage craft that you develop over many years of working in improv, but he seemed as comfortable in front of a crowd or in a group of people as anyone I’ve seen. He just seemed like the kind of guy who everyone would stop to listen to at a dinner party, and not necessarily just because he was famous. It’s something I think about every time I’m feeling like an awkward weirdo at a gathering or feeling too sober at a bar. Why can’t you be more like Harold Ramis, jackass!

I guess it’s pretty obvious now that my dad is a pothead, isn’t it. This scene always gets me for some reason.

RIP, Harold Ramis.