RIP Harold Ramis (1944-2014)

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Feb 25, 2014, 6:47 AM EST (Updated)

The actor, writer and director who brought us Animal House, Meatballs, Caddyshack, Stripes, Ghostbusters, Groundhog Day and more has passed.

Harold Ramis is not a public servant, not a monarch, nor is he a saint. He's just a guy who made people laugh, and yet he has towered over giants. If you were born anywhere between 1970 and now, the things Ramis has helped to create are probably built into your very DNA, the lines of his movies etched onto the back of your eyelids, and his jokes one small memory away from a belly laugh.

And now he's gone. Harold Ramis was declared deceased early this morning due to complications related to auto-immune inflammatory vasculitis, a disease he'd been figthing for nearly five years. He was only 69.

There aren't many folks out there who mean so much to so many people, but Harold Ramis is unquestionably one of them.

He was born in Chicago, Ill. on Nov. 21, 1944, to Ruth and Nathan Ramis. In college he was a playwright, but he was a jack of many creative trades in his youth -- he wrote for the Chicago Daily News, performed with the gang at Second City, he was an editor for Playboy (which he'd never read before, and never did again once he'd quit working for the publication), a husband, a father, a draft dodger, and that's just where his story really gets going.

In 1978, he co-wrote what is still the quintessential college comedy, Animal House. From there he had a string of instant comedy classics with Meatballs, Caddyshack and Stripes. He defined what it meant to be funny.

And then he redefined it with Ghostbusters, a film that is not only his best-known work, but also one of the most instantly recognized movies ever made. Ramis co-wrote the film with Dan Aykroyd, and also starred as (who I still maintain is the funniest character) the dry-witted scientist Egon Spengler. If you ask someone to list the movies they know, back to front, you can bet Ghostbusters will be on it. And, for generations, he sparked a childhood fascination with the occult and paved the way for so many movies and shows on the subject.

But I would argue that Ramis' most important work is Groundhog Day, which could have so easily been just a romantic comedy about a guy who lives the same day over and over until he gets the girl. But with Ramis both writing and directing, we got what is one of the most deft and touching stories about the human condition ever put to film.

And I find myself thinking of that movie now. There's a point where Bill Murray's character, Phil Connors, decides he's going to take pity on a poor old man who's down on his luck. But no matter how much money Phil gives the old man, no matter how much food he buys him, no matter what kindness he offers, the old man always dies at the end of the day. And as he's literally trying to breathe life back into the man in a lonely alleyway after countless times of trying to save him, Phil must confront one of life's hardest lessons -- that we can't outrun death, and we can't keep a hold of someone we love forever, no matter how tightly we grab onto them.

Harold Ramis taught us to make every day we have matter, because we only get one shot at this life. And he made us laugh when he did it. I can think of no finer legacy than that.

Ramis is survived by his wife Erica, his sons Julian and Daniel, his daughter Violet, and two grandchildren.