Updated 02/24/14 – 2:35 p.m.
CHICAGO (CBS) — Legendary Chicago comedian, screenwriter and director Harold Ramis — who gave us such iconic films as “Animal House,” “Caddyshack,” and “Groundhog Day,” and co-starred in “Ghostbusters” — has died after a long illness.
The Second City comedy troupe, where Ramis got his start in improv in 1968, confirmed he died Monday morning.
“It is with great sadness that we learned of the passing of our dear friend and alumni, Harold Ramis. It is a great loss for his family and the film and entertainment communities. Our thoughts are with his wife Erica and their family,” Second City CEO Andrew Alexander said.
Another Second City official said Ramis came to performances regularly, to show his support for young performers.
“Harold Ramis was an A-plus creative talent and an A-plus human being, which never happens,” says Kelly Leonard, executive vice president of Chicago’s Second City.
Ramis had been battling complications from autoimmune inflammatory vasculitis, a rare disease that causes swelling of the blood vessels. He spent four months at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., in 2010, following surgery for diverticulitis, which brought on complications from the autoimmune disease.
He was born in Chicago in 1944, and attended Hayt Elementary School and Senn High School.
Ramis joined The Second City’s traveling improv comedy troupe in 1968, and was the original head writer of the group’s television series, “SCTV,” before going into film.
Alexander, who worked with Ramis on SCTV, remembered when Ramis quit that show.
“It was really difficult for us, because he was so good,” Alexander added. “And the movie that he was working on turned out to be ‘Animal House.’”
That 1978 film, directed by John Landis and co-starring fellow Second City alum John Belushi, served as the launching pad for Ramis’ success on the big screen.
He followed that up by directing such comedy classics as “Caddyshack” and “Groundhog Day.” He also co-wrote and co-starred in “Ghostbusters” and “Stripes.”
Movie critic Richard Roeper says Ramis knew how to be funny – but also let other actors shine.
“He was never going to have a big, over-the-top personality like John Belushi or this movie star, Bill Murray thing,” Roeper tells CBS 2. “He was a set-up man, he was a go-to guy. He served the other actors in films he was in. I think that’s why he concentrated more on becoming a director and a writer, because he knew he was funny. But he had more of a deadpan style.”
Over the past 20 years, Ramis was more often behind the camera than in front of it. His last acting credit was 2009’s “Year One,” which he also directed.
He shunned Hollywood to move back to the North Shore, saying he could raise his family and live a more normal life in the area where he grew up.
Actor Dan Aykroyd, who co-starred with Ramis in “Ghostbusters” and “Ghostbusters 2,” along with Bill Murray, said he was “deeply saddened to hear of the passing of my brilliant, gifted, funny friend, co-writer/performer and teacher Harold Ramis. May he now get the answers he was always seeking.”
Alexander said Ramis not only was funny, but very smart.
“When he was on stage with John Belushi, he recognized that John was going to be the clown,” Alexander said. “He [Ramis] kind of goofed around a lot, and he realized that he wasn’t going to be that, compete with that. So he took, I think, a more cerebral approach.”
Over the last several years, there were discussions of doing a third “Ghostbusters” movie, but that effort never got off the ground, in large part due to creative differences with Murray about the plot of the movie.
Many of Ramis’ fellow comedians, directors, and actors have been weighing in about his death on Twitter.
Harold Ramis was a brilliant, shining example for every comedy writer hoping to achieve excellence the field. He will be sorely missed.
— Seth MacFarlane (@SethMacFarlane) February 24, 2014