If you ever sat in a 1980s-era movie theatre laughing your head off, chances are you know the work of Harold Ramis. If you spent the 90s thinking about the lessons to be learned in one endless day, you may regard Harold Ramis as your spirit guide.
He died today, at the age of 69. He was born in Chicago, and grew up on the West Side and in Rogers Park.
Ramis freelanced features for the Daily News, and wrote jokes for Playboy magazine. He learned to play on stage at Second City in 1969 and would go on to write and perform on the National Lampoon Radio Hour and SCTV.
He co-wrote “Animal House” in 1978, which made John Belushi a superstar, and “Meatballs” in ’79, which was one of several collaborations with Bill Murray. During this time, Ramis pitted the slobs against the snobs — the slobs won — and harnessed the improvisational brilliance of his co-stars.
Ramis helped write and directed “Caddyshack” in 1980, helped to write “Stripes” in 1981 and “Ghostbusters” in ’84 (and played the cute nerd in both). He directed “National Lampoon’s Vacation,” which was written by the late John Hughes.
Then his masterpiece: “Groundhog Day” in 1993. The story of an obnoxious weatherman who finds himself re-living February 2nd until he finally gets it right.
It was a movie so funny and so meaningful that people of many different faiths claimed Ramis must be speaking for their particular God. It allowed people to see Bill Murray beyond Carl Spackler. It gave Woodstock, Illinois a place in film history. It was added to the National Film Registry in 2006.
Ramis moved his family to the North Shore in the ’90s and he continued to make movies. Some were hits – like “Analyze This” – and some were not. But he collaborated and worked, and as Martin Short once said — if someone cracked a joke in a room full of comedians, everyone would look to Harold first, to see if he was laughing.