Most of us have heard by now of the passing of Harold Ramis. Most of us know him as Egon Spengler in Ghostbusters. But, he was so much more than that. In fact, he may have more of an influence on comedy in the ’80s (and beyond) than anybody else.
Ramis was born on November 21, 1944, in Chicago, Illinois. He with Chicago’s Second City improvisational comedy troupe. In 1974, John Belushi brought Ramis and and other Second City performers, including Bill Murray, to New York to work together on the radio program The National Lampoon Radio Hour.
During this time, Ramis, Belushi, Murray, Joe Flaherty, Christopher Guest, and Gilda Radner starred in the revue The National Lampoon Show.
Ramis would go on to become the head writer of the late-night sketch-comedy television series SCTV during its first three years (1976–1979), and also played some characters on the show, such as Officer Friendly, exercise guru Swami Bananananda, board chairman Allan “Crazy Legs” Hirschman, home dentist Mort Finkel and /SCTV station manager Moe Green as seen here:
Ramis left SCTV to pursue a film career and wrote a script with National Lampoon magazine’s Douglas Kenney which would eventually become a movie you may have heard of – National Lampoon’s Animal House.
Ramis next co-wrote the comedy Meatballs, starring Bill Murray. The movie was a commercial success and became the first of six film collaborations between Murray and Ramis. Growing up, I loved this movie. Even though it was released in 1979, I consider it an honorary ’80s movie.
OK, so far the first two movies he wrote was Animal House and Meatballs. You may have also heard of the third movie he wrote. It was a little golf movie called Caddyshack! This was also his directorial debut.
The next movie he was involved with was an acting gig, starring along with Bill Murray and John Candy – 1981’s Stripes. He played John Winger’s (Bill Murray) best friend, Russell Ziskey. Here is Russell teaching a Basic English class before John Winger talks him into joining the Army:
If that isn’t enough for you, he also directed National Lampoon’s Vacation. Oh, and see if Marty Moose’s voice sounds familiar:
In 1984, Ramis collaborated with Dan Aykroyd on the screenplay for Ghostbusters (as well as the forgettable sequel), which became one of the biggest comedy hits of the summer.
Here is Ramis as Egor Spengler along with Annie Potts as Janine Melnitz:
He also wrote and produced the Rodney Dangerfield movie, Back to School (1986). Then came the disappointing sequels to close out the ’80s – Caddyshack II (although we did get Kenny Loggins’ “Nobody’s Fool” out of that) and Ghostbusters II.
However, he did have a huge comeback writing, producing, directing, and acting in the 1993 Bill Murray film, Groundog Day.
Harold Ramis’ movies have influenced many comedians and comedy writers, such as Jay Roach (Austin Powers), Jake Kasdan (Orange County), Adam Sandler, and Peter and Bobby Farrelly. There is a really good article about his influences in The New Yorker.
In May 2010, Ramis contracted an infection that resulted in complications from autoimmune inflammatory vasculitis. He lost the ability to walk; after relearning to do so, he suffered a relapse of the disease in late 2011. He died of complications of the disease on February 24, 2014, at his home on Chicago’s North Shore, at age…69. C’Mon now!! Did he plan that! A great comedian to the end!
We may have lost a great one, but his legacy will last forever.
As a supplement to yesterday’s article. Let’s have some fun, and Return to this week in 1989, and see what was topping the music charts, what was ruling the box office, and what we were watching on TV.
First up, here were the top-10 songs this week in 1989:
I can’t believe it’s been 25 years!! After graduating high school in 1988, I went to community college for a semester. What a disaster! I had no idea what I wanted to do in life, and I had little discipline. With nothing to lose, I decided to join the Navy. I officially signed the paperwork on February 7, and had 2 weeks before I was going to leave for boot camp. This gave me 2 weeks to say goodbye to family and friends, and one big going away party. That party is a whole story itself. It involved a huge Truth or Dare game. It was basically just a Dare game which may or may not have involved several possible illegal activities. But, we won’t go there today.
The party was totally over on February 21, 1989 at around 4:00 AM when the recruiter came and picked me up to bring me to Boston. As we were driving away from the house, Paul Young’s “Everytime You Go Away” came on the local top-40 radio station in the car. How cruel!
We got to the main recruiting center in Boston, filled out some final paperwork, and one more physical exam. Then several of us, from different branches of the service, were bussed over to Logan Airport.
I was going to boot camp at Great Lakes in Illinois, so I flew into O’Hare airport in Chicago, and had to wait there most of the day. So I hung out in the USO lounge most of the day. I had to wait for everybody else to get in so we could all get bussed to boot camp all at once.
Oh, just in case you breezed past the beginning of this paragraph, take a look-see at where I went to boot camp, and remember what the date is. It was not exactly balmy there! Just the opposite. Hoth had nothing on this place! (Holla, Empire Strikes Back fans!) We arrived at the recruit training center very late that night. We then had fill out yet more paperwork, and we had to put our personal belongings in a storage bag, which we would get back when boot camp was over. Anybody who served in the military knows the “Hurry up and wait” routine, with the stress being on Wait. After waiting a long time to do different processes, it was about 5:00 AM by the time we were done.
Next we were marched over to a room with many bunk beds. Were they actually going to let us sleep?!? Wow. Uh, that would be a big fat NO! There were other recruits already sleeping in those beds. Two Company Commanders/Drill Sergeants then commenced to scream and throw some big aluminum garbage cans around the room, waking everybody up. This made me glad that I didn’t get to go to sleep.
Everything was a blur after that. We were broken up into different “companies”, and met our Company Commanders. At some point we got measured for clothes, were given our seabags, and settled in to our barracks. So that was my day 25 years ago.
Boot camp was 8 weeks. After that I went from Chicago to San Diego for my schooling. By April, it was beginning to thaw, but everything was still brown at Great Lakes. When I got off the plane in San Diego, the first thing I saw was palm trees, and nice perfect weather.
My time in the Navy was quite eventful. I survived a major earthquake, and served in the Gulf War (Operation Desert Shield/Desert Storm).
I know I don’t tell too many stories about my life too often on this blog. But, on this date, I figured I’d share a little. Thanks for reading.