Columbia Pictures via Everett Collection
For many of us who grew up in the 1980s, hearing that Harold Ramis died was a hard one. We’d seen so many of those movies that he’d either had a hand in writing, directing, or acting in: Meatballs, Caddyshack, Animal House, Stripes and Ghostbusters, just to name a few. It was one hell of a run right there, added to the fact that he also helmed the ’90s classic Groundhog Day.
Ramis was the perfect foil for the more blustering types that appeared in his films: Dan Aykroyd, John Belushi, Chevy Chase, and Bill Murray were the big four. They were the ones who had all the wild and wacky things happen to them, while the nebbish Ramis hung in the background, or even sometimes stood in for a prop: Remember when he was a human buffer in the fight in the barracks in Stripes? Having to hold back a violent John Candy should earn anyone some hazard pay, acting or not.
Alongside these alphas, Ramis conveyed a kind of genial warmth in whatever project he was in. His turn as the laid-back father of Seth Rogen in Knocked Up was a bit of an existential moment: Egon was a dad now, ready to become a grandfather. Just like a good majority of us ’80s kids who were having children of our own.
What made all of the aforementioned movies so great was not only their endearing zaniness, but the intelligence in the humor as well. There was never the feeling that Ramis was pandering to the lowest common denominator to mine some laughs. Sure, there were goofy moments, like Belushi’s Bluto Blutarski starting a food fight in a college cafeteria, but the set-ups were exquisite. Additionally, Ramis projected an everyman persona on the screen — he wasn’t terribly photogenic, with his Frankensteinian hair, glasses, and gap-tooth smile. He looked like any of us on the street (especially if you were high school valedictorian). His movies just always made you feel like you were sitting with an old friend who could always make crack you up.
Many years later, that feeling persists. The magic of Ramis’ films is that I’m able to become young again when I rewatch Ghostbusters or Animal House for like the 40th time. And although we may have lost him, I like to imagine Ramis is talking somewhere with other great filmmakers who died too young — say, Jim Henson and John Hughes — and coming up with one heck of a movie. The Muppets Take Groundhog Day? It’s one I’m sure that I would watch over and over.
Rest in peace, Harold. Thank you for everything.