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Actor, writer, director Harold Ramis dies at 69

CHICAGO -- Harold Ramis, the bespectacled “Ghostbusters” sidekick to Bill Murray whose early grounding in live comedy led to blockbuster movies such as “National Lampoon's Animal House,” “Caddyshack” and “Groundhog Day,” died Monday. He was 69.

Ramis, who suffered for several years from an autoimmune disease that caused inflammation and damage to his blood vessels, died at his home in the Chicago suburbs, surrounded by family and friends, his talent agency said.

The writer-director-actor quietly and often off-screen created an unparalleled and hugely influential body of laughs in a filmography that includes some of the most beloved and widely quoted comedy classics of the last 30 years.

His death rattled a modern comedy world Ramis helped build. His legacy as a father figure to generations of comedians was appropriately captured in Judd Apatow's “Knocked Up,” in which Ramis was cast as Seth Rogen's father, he said, “because we all saw him as the dream dad.”

“Harold Ramis made almost every movie which made me want to become a comedy director,” Apatow said. “These films are the touchstones of our lives.”

Chevy Chase, whom Ramis directed in “Caddyshack” and “National Lampoon's Vacation,” called him “a great man who shunned unnecessary Hollywood-type publicity.”

“It was Harold who acted out and gave me the inspiration for the character of Clark Griswold” in the National Lampoon Vacation movies, Chase said Monday. “I was really copying Harold's impression of Clark.”

Admittedly lacking the dashing leading-man looks of some of his peers, Ramis was memorably nebbishy: curly haired, gangly and bespectacled. He played Ghostbuster scientist Egon Spengler (naturally, the one with all the ideas), and Bill Murray's Army recruit buddy in “Stripes.”

But the Chicago native and early member of the improv comedy troupe Second City was a far larger force behind the camera. The intellectual Ramis was the Zen master to a wild, improvising comic storm that included Murray, John Belushi, Chase and Dan Aykroyd.

He co-wrote and directed “Caddyshack,” “Groundhog Day,” and “Analyze This.” He helped pen “Meatballs,” “Stripes” and “Ghostbusters.”

Ramis could reasonably be credited with making more people roll in the aisles from the late '70s to the early '90s than almost anyone else. “He earned his keep on this planet,” Murray said in a statement.

With a Baby Boomer countercultural bent, Ramis — who escaped Vietnam service, he claimed, by checking every box on the medical-history form — pushed against institutions: the college dean of “Animal House,” the country club members of “Caddyshack,” the drill sergeant of “Stripes.”

Ramis, who became a Buddhist in midlife, was known to have a spiritual pull, on full display in the wry but earnest existentialism of “Groundhog Day” (1993), in which Murray re-lives a day until he finally gets it right. His “Ghostbusters” co-star and Second City mate Aykroyd said: “May he now get the answers he was always seeking.”

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In this Feb. 18, 2007 photo provided by the Las Vegas News Bureau, actor, director, and writer Harold Ramis, left, poses for a photo with actor Steve Carell at the red carpet for the NBA All-Star game in Las Vegas. (AP)

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