NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — Legendary comedian, director and writer Harold Ramis, best know for his work in iconic films “Ghostbusters,” “Stripes,” “Caddyshack,” and “Groundhog Day,” has died after a long illness.
He was 69.
The Second City comedy troupe, where Ramis got his start in improv in 1968, confirmed he died Monday morning.
“It is with great sadness that we learned of the passing of our dear friend and alumni, Harold Ramis. It is a great loss for his family and the film and entertainment communities. Our thoughts are with his wife Erica and their family,” said The Second City chief executive officer Andrew Alexander said in a statement released to Chicago’s WBBM Newsradio.
Another Second City official told CBS Chicago Ramis came to performances regularly, to show his support for young performers.
“Harold Ramis was an A-plus creative talent and an A-plus human being, which never happens,” says Kelly Leonard, executive vice president of Chicago’s Second City.
Ramis had been battling complications from autoimmune inflammatory vasculitis, a rare disease that causes swelling of the blood vessels. He spent four months at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., in 2010, following surgery for diverticulitis, which brought on complications from the autoimmune disease.
Ramis was born in Chicago in 1944 and worked with the famous Second City improvisational comedy troupe before starting his film career.
Perhaps his greatest legacy is his influence on generations of comedians, actors and directors due to his ability to infuse comedy with a broader, sometimes spiritual message, Alexander said.
Ramis was born in Chicago in 1944, and joined The Second City’s traveling improv comedy troupe in 1968, and was the original head writer of the group’s television series, “SCTV,” before going into film, CBS Chicago reported.
“There was always a nuanced meaning to his pictures,” Alexander said, including an “almost Buddhist philosophy to ‘Groundhog Day”’ — a movie Ramis co-wrote and directed that tells the story of a man who re-lives the same day over and over as he examines his life.
Future co-stars Dan Aykroyd, John Belushi and Bill Murray got their start with Ramis in getting his start in Chicago-based improvisational comedy theater.
Alexander, who worked with Ramis on SCTV, remembered when Ramis quit that show.
“It was really difficult for us, because he was so good,” Alexander added. “And the movie that he was working on turned out to be ‘Animal House.’”
That 1978 film, directed by John Landis and co-starring fellow Second City alum John Belushi, served as the launching pad for Ramis’ success on the big screen, CBS Chicago reported.
He followed that up by directing such comedy classics as “Caddyshack” and “Groundhog Day.” He also co-wrote and co-starred in “Ghostbusters” and “Stripes.”
Movie critic Richard Roeper said Ramis knew how to be funny – but also let other actors shine.
“He was never going to have a big, over-the-top personality like John Belushi or this movie star, Bill Murray thing,” Roeper told WBBM-TV, CBS 2 Chicago. “He was a set-up man, he was a go-to guy. He served the other actors in films he was in. I think that’s why he concentrated more on becoming a director and a writer, because he knew he was funny. But he had more of a deadpan style.”
Over the past 20 years, Ramis was more often behind the camera than in front of it. His last acting credit was 2009’s “Year One,” which he also directed.
He shunned Hollywood to move back to Chicago’s North Shore suburbs, saying he could raise his family and live a more normal life in the area where he grew up, CBS Chicago reported.
Aykroyd issued a statement Monday, saying he was “deeply saddened to hear of the passing of my brilliant, gifted, funny friend — May he now get the answers he was always seeking.”
Over the last several years, there were discussions of doing a third “Ghostbusters” movie, but that effort never got off the ground, in large part due to creative differences with Murray about the plot of the movie, CBS Chicago reported.
Ramis is survived by his wife, Erica Ramis; sons Julian and Daniel; daughter Violet; and two grandchildren.
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