The actor, writer and director Harold Ramis, best known as bespectacled science nerd Egon Spengler in Ghostbusters, died on Monday in Chicago. He was 69. Ramis, who also wrote and directed the comedy classics Caddyshack and Groundhog Day, had spent four years suffering from a rare auto-immune condition that causes swelling of the blood vessels, his wife Erica Ramis told The Chicago Tribune.
Ramis, one of the most successful comedy filmmakers of his generation, had returned with his family from Hollywood to his hometown, Chicago, almost 20 years ago. He was born in the city in 1944, and began his career by writing arts stories for a local newspaper and editing the “party jokes” section of Playboy magazine. As a young performer, he joined Chicago’s celebrated improvisational comedy troupe, Second City, and in the late 1970s rose to become the head writer on the group’s television series, Second City Television.
It was at Second City that he first met fellow future comedy stars John Belushi and Bill Murray. Ramis and Murray would go on to make six films together, but Ramis made his name in Hollywood in 1978 as the co-writer of National Lampoon’s Animal House, which starred Belushi. Animal House was the first in a run of Ramis hits: he co-wrote and starred in Stripes (1981) and Ghostbusters (1984) with Murray, as well as the 1989 sequel, Ghostbusters II.
Meanwhile, in 1980, he made his directorial debut with the cult classic Caddyshack. He went on to write and direct Groundhog Day in 1993, which remains one of the most successful comedies of all time, followed by the mobster comedy Analyze This in 1999, starring Billy Crystal and Robert De Niro. Recently he directed several episodes of the US version of The Office. His final film was the 2009 prehistoric comedy Year One.
Ramis’s work proved to be inspirational for a younger generation of comedy filmmakers, including the writer-director Judd Apatow, who cast him as Seth Rogen’s father in his 2007 film Knocked Up. “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,” Apatow told the Tribune. “His work is the reason why so many of us got into comedy… He literally made every single one of our favourite movies.”