Harold Ramis was more than just Ghostbusters

04:30, Feb 25 2014

Harold Ramis is probably most recognisable as one of the three grey overall-wearing, largely incompetent main combatants in the 1984 comedy Ghostbusters.

As Egon Spengler, the gangly, gawky brains of the operation, he was the perfect foil to Bill Murray's cavalier buffoonery and Dan Aykroyd's childlike gusto.

Beyond that, however, he was the voice behind multiple genre-defining comedies in the 1980s and '90s, inspiring generations of comedic talent such as writer, director and producer Judd Apatow, who has said Ramis was the person he wanted to be when he grew up.

Ramis died early on Monday morning after a long struggle with illness relating to an autoimmune inflammatory disease. He was 69.

Ramis' skill, whether as actor, director or writer, lay in his ability to gently meld together elements such as slapstick, caustic wit, fratboy crassness and pathos, cutting right to an engaging, deep and lasting connection with audiences.

His career-defining work is 1993's Groundhog Day, which has Murray, as obnoxious weatherman Phil Connors, stuck in a time loop and forced to reassess his behaviour for the better, and winning over Andie MacDowell's character in the process.


On paper, it seems like schmaltzy romcom territory, but the film's gentle pushing of Murray's cantankerous weatherman into a better person blends comedy with kindness, with a subtle underlying and uplifting moral that succeeds in widely circumnavigating a sacchrine aftertaste.

Ramis began his career as a freelance writer before joining Chicago's renowned Second City improv comedy troupe, which was also responsible for honing the wit of countless Ramis collaborators such as John Candy, James Belushi and Aykroyd.

From there he moved onto The National Lampoon Radio Hour and revue show in New York, working with Murray and Belushi before striking gold with a number of raunchy, rowdy movies: National Lampoon's Animal House (1978), Meatballs (1979), Caddyshack (1980), which he also directed, and Stripes (1981).

Ghostbusters, which he wrote with co-star Aykroyd, quickly became an international phenomenon and one of the highest grossing films of the '80s. Somehow the film got away with a completely nonsensical plot and was enriched with hugely imaginative special effects for its time, a brilliantly deadpan performance by Murray and rounded but entirely fallible, fun characters who became heroes to a generation of young film-goers.

Deeply saddened to hear of the passing of my brilliant, gifted, funny friend, co-writer/performer and teacher Harold Ramis.

May he now get the answers he was always seeking.

He later wrote and directed movie hits Analyze This (1999) and Analyze That (2002), teaming De Niro and Billy Crystal as a panic attack-stricken mob boss and his psychiatrist respectively. As an actor, he also appeared as Seth Rogen's dad in 2007's Knocked Up, and as the welcomed Dr Bettes in As Good as it Gets, who treated Helen Hunt's character's sickly son.

The latter role was a perfect one for Ramis, displaying his skill in relating compassion and the ability to connect with people.

Ramis once said that a job he took after graduating from university in 1966, working at a mental institution in St Louis for seven months, was the best foundation for Hollywood life.

"People laugh when I say that," he told writer Mike Sacks, "but it was actually very good training. And 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."

Ramis's legacy will be as the legendary comic voice that nailed blending laughs with generosity of spirit and simple kindness, proving that sometimes it's OK to cross the streams.


1) I never work just to work. It's some combination of laziness and self-respect.

2) I feel a big obligation to the audience, almost in a moral sense, to say something useful. If I'm going to spend a year of my life on these things, I want something that I feel that strongly about.

3) My characters aren't losers. They're rebels. They win by their refusal to play everyone else's rebels.

4) You can't not have feelings about country clubs, whichever side you're on.

5) You just make sure you don't screw it up. It's going to work as long as you don't mess it up. Hopefully you have plenty of those moments in a big comedy.

Sydney Morning Herald