Special Features – Harold Ramis (1944 – 2014)

Luke Owen remembers Harold Ramis…

You only have to listen to the Tinsel Town Stiffs section of Kevin Smith and Ralph Garman’s Hollywood Babble On to know that not a week goes by where the entertainment industry doesn’t lose one of its stars. This year alone we have seen tragic loses in James Avery and Philip Seymour Hoffman and yesterday we lost one of the true greats in comedy of the last few decades. On February 24th 2014, Harold Ramis passed away at the age of 69. We lost one entertainment’s brightest stars.

When you look back at the great comedies of the 1980s, Ramis’ name crops up again and again. Caddyshack. Groundhog Day. National Lampoon’s Vacation. Stripes. The list goes on. Whether he worked on the project as a writer, actor or director, his legacy of work is hard to deny as anything other than stellar. You never really appreciate what an impact a person has on the industry until their passing, but the amount of heart-felt tweets and messages from fans and colleagues alike spoke volumes. He has been created as a “genius”, “gifted” and “brilliant”. Dan Aykroyd called him a “teacher”, Bill Murray said that he had “earned his keep on this planet”. Chevy Chase has said that his legendary performance of Clark Griswold was nothing more than an impression of Ramis’ idea of the character. The likes of Judd Apatow, The Farrelly Brothers and Adam Sandler have all said that Ramis was an inspiration for them to work in comedy. Last night I spoke with Christian James and Dan Palmer of zombie-comedy Stalled who both spoke of how Ramis’ work influenced their own.
And of course, it seems sadly poetic that Harold Ramis passed away in the year of perhaps his most successful franchise’s 30th Anniversary.

While he leaves an impressive body of work, Ramis will always be remembered for playing Dr. Egon Spengler in the 1984 comedy classic Ghostbusters. Once the news broke about his passing, it seemed every news story printed used a picture of Ramis in the iconic role and almost all social media output from fans has been geared towards the performance. Today the Hook and Ladder 8 firehouse, which served as the Ghostbusters’ HQ in the movie, put up the Ghostbusters II logo as it appeared in the film in remembrance and fans around New York have stopped by to leave flowers, pictures and even Twinkie bars as they mourn the loss. It’s a testament to how great Ramis is in the role and the impact the movie had on a generation.

What many people forget is just how much Ramis changed and influenced the direction of Ghostbusters. Before he came on board, Dan Aykroyd’s script featured himself and John Belushi travelling through time and space fighting ghosts with the likes Mr. Stay Puft making an appearance on page 13 as just a regular bad guy. What Ramis and director Ivan Reitman did was take Aykroyd’s idea and use a tried and tested comedic method to make it better – ground it in reality and put ordinary people in extraordinary situations. By having Peter, Ray, Egon and Winston regular folk who are then thrust into the strange situation of dealing with a Sumerian God in the real-world setting of New York, Ghostbusters had a close-to-home atmosphere that a movie about space busters would have lacked. Without Ramis’ writing and vision, who knows if Ghostbusters would have become the pop culture behemoth it is today. As Dan Palmer pointed out on the latest Flickering Myth Podcast, Dan Aykroyd is (and always will be) a great writer, but without a filter like Ramis he doesn’t write Blues Brothers, he writes Blues Brothers 2000.

It’s hard to put into words just how much Ramis and Ghostbusters changed my life. In the near 30 years of my existence I have spent the majority of my time watching the movie, playing with the toys from the spin-off cartoon, dressing up as a Ghostbuster for Halloween or a convention, going to public screenings, private screenings and interactive screenings or simply quoting it with friends until our sides hurt from laughter. Like many people of my generation, the news of Ramis’ death has touched me deeply. It seems unfair to pin him down to just one role, but Egon Spengler was a huge part of a lot of people’s childhood and he should be remembered for that, as well as all of his other great work. Harold Ramis’ passing is akin to the death of John Lennon: we’ve lost our first Beatle. Only our Beatles didn’t play music, they busted ghosts.

You’ve crossed the streams Egon, I just hope there are plenty of Twinkies, spore molds and fungus wherever you are. Thank you for everything.

Luke Owen is one of Flickering Myth’s co-editors and the host of the Flickering Myth Podcast. You can follow him on Twitter @LukeWritesStuff.

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