On Monday came the sad news that Harold Ramis died. He was 69 and had been sick for some time.
I was first introduced to him when I was 12 years old. My older brother, Bobby, first turned me on to the original cast of Saturday Night Live and then he really fucked me up by turning me on to show called SCTV. SCTV followed SNL at midnight in Chicago. It was this cheap-looking syndicated show from Canada and my brother kept saying it was funnier than SNL and his favorite character was Mo Green, who was played by Harold Ramis. By the time I started watching it, though, Mo Green was gone, making me feel, once again, like I had missed out on something.
I asked my brother about Mo Green he said, “He left to go write a movie with some friends.” That movie was Animal House. For Ramis, that was just the beginning.
Of course, he went on to make so many classics – Caddyshack, Meatballs, Stripes, Ghostbusters and more.
If you lived in Chicago after 1996, when Ramis moved back from L.A., and you were around Second City, you were bound to have some sort of contact with him.
This was confirmed after reading all the posts from my Facebook friends over the last few days. Story after story were posted on people’s walls — about meeting him after a show and how encouraging he had been to them, or how he took the time to read a script of theirs and give extensive notes, or how he invited them on the set of one of his movies, or how patient he was as a director.
I didn’t realize how many people he gone out of his way to help. With the amount of success he had, he didn’t have to do that.
I was lucky to have interviewed Harold twice when I was on public radio. The second time, he came and sat down at the table in the hotel suite and he remember my full name. Both times, after our interviews, he stayed and spent some extra time talking about Second City or Bill Murray or Ernie Hudson, the fourth Ghostbuster.
Harold was kind and generous with his time. You never thought he was in rush to get anywhere, even when he was doing a movie junket and you only got 15 minutes with him. I am sure he had ego, you don’t go that far in the film business without one, but it was almost like he was humbled by his success and that helping people in the comedy was part of his job description.
Harold Ramis accomplished a lot, and you could not forget that when you met him, but what I’ve found remarkable over the last few days is that my friends haven’t been talking about how much they loved Groundhog Day or Stripes. Some posts did, but most people have been talking about Harold Ramis the person, his generosity, his kindness.
People in comedy are cynical by nature. It’s our defense mechanism, and it’s much easier for us to talk about someone’s accomplishments than it is to talk about the person. Unless the person eclipses those accomplishments.
With Harold, the fact that this guy’s life and how he lived it trumped what he created is a testament to the man. And to me, that is how you know you’ve lived a good life.