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Harold Ramis, 1944-2014

2:31 PM, Feb 26, 2014 • By JONATHAN V. LAST
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Harold Ramis died on Monday morning. Having written, directed (or written and directed) five of the funniest movies of the last 40 years, I think it's safe to put him on the short list for Funniest Guy of His Generation.

Harold Ramis, 1944-2014

You probably have your favorite Ramis movie. My own preference is for Ghostbusters. Vacation, Caddyshack, and Groundhog Day are all superior movies. Probably funnier, too. But Ghostbusters hit me at a perfect moment: I was 10 years old when it came out, and, for the first time in my life, I was sophisticated enough to understand comedy. And the movie just slayed me. I think I saw it six or seven times in the theaters.

Eight years ago I revisited it somewhat warily, certain it couldn't live up to the memory of the movie created by my 10-year-old self. But I was shocked at how well it held up. If anything, it improved with age.

If you have any affinity for Ramis's work, then treat yourself to this wonderful 2004 profile by Tad Friend. It's full—and I mean totally, completely chock-a-block—with wonderful vignettes. The greatest of which isn't even about him, but rather is a story told by Ramis about Bill Murray:

After a moment, [Ramis] continued, "One of my favorite Bill Murray stories is one about when he went to Bali. I'd spent three weeks there, mostly in the south, where the tourists are. But Bill rode a motorcycle into the interior until the sun went down and got totally lost. He goes into a village store, where they are very surprised to see an American tourist, and starts talking to them in English, going 'Wow! Nice hat! Hey, gimme that hat!'" Ramis's eyes were lighting up. "And he took the guy’s hat and started imitating people, entertaining. Word gets around this hamlet that there’s some crazy guy at the grocery, and he ended up doing a dumb show with the whole village sitting around laughing as he grabbed the women and tickled the kids. No worry about getting back to a hotel, no need for language, just his presence, and his charisma, and his courage. When you meet the hero, you sure know it."

Forget the short list, Murray is almost certainly the Funniest Guy of His Generation. (There's a story about Murray nearly getting into a fist fight with Chevy Chase in Live from New York, the oral history of Saturday Night Live. As the story goes, it was Murray's first season with the show and Chase was back guest hosting. No one in the cast liked Chase and moments before the curtain went up, he and Murray started shoving each other. The cast and the stagehands had to physically separate them and as they're being pulled apart, they're cursing and spitting. And in the middle of this, Murray shouts, "Medium talent!" Maybe the best insult in the history of insults.)

But Murray doesn't exist—not as “Bill Murray”—without Ramis. And in addition to that, Ramis was responsible for an awful lot of other funny, too. Cinderella story.

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