Chicago Jewish filmmaker Harold Ramis dies at 69


CHICAGO — Actor, director and writer Harold Ramis died Monday of last week at his Glencoe, Ill., home. Ramis, 69, died from complications from Vasculitis, an autoimmune disorder that leads to inflammation and damage to blood vessels, according to the Associated Press.

Ramis’ filmography reads like an encyclopedia of great comic movies of the last 30 years. He was the brains – either writer, director or both – behind some of the most often quoted and referred-to film comedies of recent decades like Animal House, Meatballs, Caddyshack, Stripes, National Lampoon’s Vacation, Ghostbusters, Groundhog Day and Analyze This. A Chicago native and a Chicago’s Second City alum, Ramis had returned to Chicago from Hollywood many years ago to be closer to his parents.

In the spring of 2009, JUF News interviewed Ramis over the phone, in advance of an appearance for the Chicago Jewish community. Here are excerpts from the interview:

JUF News: Your movies are constant pop culture references. How does it make you feel to know that so many of your films have made it into the cultural fabric of society?

Harold Ramis: Everyone starts out with big dreams, particularly people who want to be artists or have careers in entertainment. Then, when it happens, you dream about it, you picture it, you imagine what it’s going to be like, and then it’s so weird when it actually happens. You learn that it’s great on so many levels and in such a big way, it doesn’t change anything. You’re still who you are, you still have the same problems and issues and same insecurities, and the same responsibilities. I’m really glad people like these films and that a couple of them have lasted so long and I love doing what I’m doing, but I try not to be grandiose about it or be even more narcissistic than I already am.

Q. You don’t sound too narcissistic to me. Why did you choose a life in Chicago instead of Hollywood?

A. My wife grew up in L.A. and her father was a film director. We liked it out there. We weren’t really refugees to Chicago from there. I came back to Chicago to be near my parents, who were getting too old to travel. My mother passed away and my father is still around. He lives in Northbrook and is 94 years old. I wanted them to know my second family. I’d been married before and had been away all those years and thought this was a chance to reunite my family.

Q. Your movies have so much heart. Is there a common thread that all your movies share?

A. I’ve looked at the first few films I did and thought we were working off a kind of late ’60s anti-establishment posture that came out of being in college, a kind of us versus them, the hipsters against the squares, the rebels against the institution. That was Animal House, Stripes and Meatballs.

Having worked through that, I started looking at other concerns I have, like the movie Vacation was about what it was to be a good father and a good husband, two very difficult things to do in life.

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