Actor/Director Harold Ramis laughs as he walks the Red Carpet to celebrate The Second City's 50th anniversary Saturday, Dec. 12, 2009, in Chicago. Jim Prisching/Associated Press
Actor, writer and filmmaker Harold Ramis, the Ghostbusters star whose comedy credits include Groundhog Day and the National Lampoon films, has died at age 69.
Ramis died early Monday morning at his Chicago-area home, surrounded by family and friends, according to a statement from his Los Angeles representatives, United Talent Agency.
Ramis died of complications from autoimmune inflammatory vasculitis, a condition that affects blood vessels he had battled for the past four years.
Chicago-born Ramis started his comedy career in 1969 in his hometown's influential Second City improv comedy theatre, where he would encounter his friends and regular collaborators such as John Belushi, Bill Murray and Dan Aykroyd.
"[I'm] deeply saddened to hear of the passing of my brilliant, gifted, funny friend," Aykroyd said in a statement on Monday.
"May he now get the answers he was always seeking."
When the troupe launched its landmark television series SCTV in the late 1970s, Ramis was its first head writer, as well as one of the cast members.
Nearly a decade later, the former Playboy magazine jokes editor broke through in Hollywood with the blockbuster comedy National Lampoon's Animal House, starring Belushi, and became known for some of the most popular comedy films of the 1980s.
Throughout his career, he would mix screenwriting, directing, producing and acting roles. His best-loved titles include his role in the Ghostbusters films — in which he portrayed the straight-laced Dr. Egon Spengler and co-wrote with Aykroyd — and directing the comedy classic Groundhog Day, starring Murray.
He often teamed with his former Second City colleagues for wild and silly films, includingStripes, Caddyshack, Meatballs and National Lampoon's Vacation.
"He was a very generous, smart guy. He was always the quietest person and the loudest person in the room. His volume didn't come from his voice. It came from his intelligence," Canadian filmmaker Ivan Reitman, who directed Ghostbusters and Meatballs, told CBC's As It Happens.
"You had to pay attention because he was always going to say something really clever that made whatever we were working on better.
"I loved the guy. I always felt he was the one I could speak to, that I could be the closest with, and there must have been hundreds of others who felt the same way. It's why I felt like he was the brother I never had. He was like the more funny version of me. I learned a lot from him."
In recent years, Ramis's work included directing episodes of The Office, the film Year One and cameo roles in movies by filmmakers he'd influenced (including Judd Apatow's Knocked Up). He was also touted as a caring mentor in the industry and a key inspiration to a younger generation of comedy filmmakers, including Adam Sandler, Jay Roach, Jake Kasdan and Peter and Bobby Farrelly.
Second City founder Bernie Sahlins once said that, from the start, he knew Ramis “would be an important factor in American comedy.
"He has all the skills and abilities to be funny and to write funny, but he also is a leader, a very nice guy. He was always looked up to, in Second City to being head writer at SCTV. He was never separate from anybody. He was always one of the boys, but he was the best boy," Sahlins told the Chicago Tribune in a 1999 interview. Sahlins, who had worked with Ramis since 1969, died in 2013.
Ramis is survived by his wife, Erica Mann Ramis, his children Julian, Daniel and Violet and two grandchildren.
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