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Ivan Reitman, the Ghostbusters creator whose movies helped shape the pop culture zeitgeist of the 1980s and beyond, has passed away. Reitman reportedly died on Feb. 12, just a few months after Ghostbusters: Afterlife, directed by his son Jason Reitman, revived the beloved sci-fi comedy series for longtime fans while introducing it to a new generation of moviegoers.
Via Variety, Reitman passed away in Montecito, Calif., with his family releasing a statement that described his death as “unexpected.” A cause was not disclosed.
“Our family is grieving the unexpected loss of a husband, father, and grandfather who taught us to always seek the magic in life,” Reitman’s children said in the reported statement. “We take comfort that his work as a filmmaker brought laughter and happiness to countless others around the world. While we mourn privately, we hope those who knew him through his films will remember him always.”
Reitman was a prolific producer and directed some of the biggest comedies of the 1980s and 1990s. But his name and legacy will forever be tied to Ghostbusters (1984), which he directed and produced. Starring Bill Murray, Dan Aykroyd, Rick Moranis, and the late Harold Ramis, the movie’s blend of sci-fi storytelling; cartoonish, good-natured comedy; and charismatic star chemistry launched a franchise that staked out an enduring place in the pop culture canon.
As it was in Ghostbusters, comedy was the common thread that ran through most of Reitman’s best-known work. A Czech-born childhood émigré who grew up in Toronto, Reitman encountered Moranis and other emerging comedy stars (including Eugene Levy and Martin Short) while making short films as a student at McMaster University.
Those college-days short film experiences did more than introduce him to a cadre of lifelong friends and collaborators; they found a more practical use as well: Reitman himself would go on to direct the music video to Ray Parker Jr.’s chart-topping Ghostbusters theme song. After becoming friends with fellow Canadian Aykroyd after college, Reitman produced and directed a string of late-1970s and 1980s comedy classics that would introduce fans to his recurring cast of acting talent — including 1978’s National Lampoon’s Animal House (as producer), 1979’s Meatballs (as director), and 1980’s Stripes (as both).
Aykroyd’s earliest treatment for Ghostbusters, notes Variety, was created with Animal House star John Belushi in mind. Aykroyd reportedly revived the idea to Reitman after Belushi’s 1982 death, with acting talent (including Murray, who’d already collaborated with Reitman on Meatballs and Stripes) drawn from Belushi’s close-knit circle of up-and-coming comedian friends in The Second City improv troupe and SCTV.
Ghostbusters II, the hugely anticipated sequel to Reitman’s biggest movie hit, landed in theaters in 1989. But along the way, he was engaged in another unfolding big-screen phenomenon: helping fans appreciate the lighter side of Arnold Schwarzenegger.
Beginning in 1988, Reitman took the reins for Twins, the first in a series of comedies featuring the action megastar. Reitman produced and directed Schwarzenegger in Twins (alongside Danny DeVito), Kindergarten Cop (1990), and Junior (1994) — all as Reitman-produced hits including Beethoven (1992), Beethoven’s 2nd (1993), and the Looney Tunes all-star smash Space Jam (1996) became slam dunks with audiences.
Though comedy was in his DNA, Reitman also held an early-career appreciation for sci-fi, horror, and other of the genre elements that would find their way into Ghostbusters. He produced the 1983 adult animated classic Heavy Metal, as well as a pair of horror legend David Cronenberg’s earliest movies: Shivers (1975) and Rabid (1977).
Reitman always embraced the Ghostbusters legacy he helped create, returning 37 years after the first film to produce Ghostbusters: Afterlife — this time with his son at the directing helm. As with many fans, the family’s own emotional ties to Ghostbusters are multigenerational and strong: Jason Reitman told Empire Magazine last year that his father was moved to tears after screening a cut of the new film: “[A]fter, he cried, and he said, ‘I’m so proud to be your father.’ And it was one of the great moments of my life.”
Born in 1946, in Komárno, Czechoslovakia, Ivan Reitman moved with his family to the U.S. in 1950 in retreat from the repressive communist regime of post-WWII eastern Europe (his mother was a survivor of Germany’s Auschwitz concentration camp.) He was 75 years old. Reitman is survived by his wife Genevieve and three children: Jason, Catherine, and Caroline.