Harold Ramis, most recognized for his roles as Dr. Egon Spengler in Ghostbusters and Russell Ziskey in Stripes, passed away this morning at the age of 69.
Beyond portraying some of the most iconic characters in comedy, Ramis also created them. Ramis co-wrote Caddyshack, Stripes, Animal House and, most impressively, the near-holy Groundhog Day, some of which he also directed. Ramis was comedy for a few decades, with the power and creative output of of Judd Apatow, Amy Poehler and Dan Harmon all rolled into one.
From the beginning, he worked with and influenced the best comedians of the century: National Lampoon, Second City (and SCTV,) John Belushi, Bill Murray… A biography of Harold Ramis is simply a history of comedy in the late 20th century, and vice versa.
Each of the films he wrote were thoughtful, and proved that comedy didn’t have to be a loose plot with jokes and slapstick stapled in. Ghostbusters is a perfect blend of comedy and fantasy-sci-fi, not sacrificing either aspect for the other. Stripes, Caddyshack, and Meatballs are almost iconic enough to be a sub-genre of their own. Groundhog Day is like a somehow even more genius episode of Twilight Zone, and a perfect portrayal of the Buddhist concept of Samsara (Buddhist reincarnation is often misunderstood: the real idea is that life is a constant cycle of suffering [Samsara] that ends with enlightenment; you keep being reincarnated on this plane until you reach enlightenment and escape or ‘move on. ‘ Groundhog Day portrays Samsara as being stuck in a cycle of the same day until the ‘enlightenment’ of being a good person and being nice to Andie McDowell allows Phil to escape. Some Zen teachers have called it the most spiritual mainstream Hollywood film ever made. It’s a freakin’ deep movie.)
Ramis paved the way for the intelligent comedy of today, inspiring young writers and comedians to create better things, to think, and to write at the top of their intelligence. He was the proto-nerd of comedy. He was a friend to Bill Murray, to John Belushi, to Dan Akroyd.
As a good and enlightened person, Ramis’ Groundhog Day is over. Rest in February 3rd, Mr. Ramis.
images via Shutterstock and Boisvert Design