Early on in Ghostbusters, Peter Venkman gets slimed by a class five full-roaming vapor. His colleague Ray finds him lying on the ground, groaning and covered with snotty green ooze. "I'm with Venkman," Ray breathlessly natters into his walkie-talkie. "He got slimed!" "That's great, Ray," Egon responds. "Save some for me."
I always loved that line. And I always loved Egon Spengler, played so perfectly by Ghostbusters co-writer Harold Ramis. That geeky confidence, those weird hobbies, that oddly foxy grin. Egon was so cool.
Harold Ramis died today at the age of 69, succumbing to complications related to a rare autoimmune disease. He is gone too soon, leaving behind an incredible body of work and an undeniable, joyous legacy. He was a comedy genius, a brilliant writer and director, and a hero to nerds like me.
Upon hearing news of Ramis' passing, I, like everyone else, thought back on his legacy and what his work meant to me. Several of his early films, notably Animal House and Stripes, arrived several years before my time, though I would eventually come to love them no less than his other, later films. Both of those movies embraced ideals that would run through the core of Ramis' body of work: Root for the underdog. Believe in your friends, even if the world says you're all the worst. Get creative, be smart, and together you can win.
As fine as Ramis' earlier films were, Ghostbusters was and remains special. Ramis helped conceptualize the Ghostbusters and co-wrote the 1984 film's script along with Dan Aykroyd, who co-starred as the bumbling Dr. Ray Stantz. I wonder to this day whether the two comedians knew quite what they had on their hands as they wrote their first draft. Did they realize they were making a film that would define the childhood of an entire generation of gadget-obsessed geeks like me? Maybe. Probably not.
I adored Ghostbusters. I might have been five or six when I first saw the movie, and it was probably too scary for me—I think I was permanently scarred by the scene where Dana's chair grows arms and kidnaps her. Yet despite needing to cover my eyes from time to time, I was utterly transfixed by the film, entranced by the particle beams, the ghosts, and those four brilliant losers who somehow managed to save the world.
When I was around seven or eight, I made my own proton pack out of a cardboard box, some electrical tape and a couple of clear plexiglass dowels. Shortly after completing it, I suited up and headed—where else?—to the local public library. Upon arriving, I assertively approached the children's department librarian and explained to her that I was a Ghostbuster. Had she seen any ghosts around? She thanked me for coming by and explained that there might be some ghosts over in the back row near the teen fiction paperbacks. So began my career as a paranormal exterminator.
For a long time, Peter Venkman was my favorite Ghostbuster. Of course he was. He was aspirational; handsome and suave, he got the girl and all the best lines. "Back off man, I'm a scientist." "We came, we saw, we kicked its ass!" "Yes, it's true. This man has no dick." At the end of the movie, after the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man exploded, Venkman was the only one who didn't get completely smeared with white goop. I always figured that was because he was such a cool dude.
These days, Egon is my favorite Ghostbuster. He's the smartest and most resourceful member of the team, and the inventor of all of those incredible ghost-fighting tools. I've always liked the character, but as I got older, I came to admire Ramis' confident, low-key performance. The Twinkie scene has replaced the sliming scene as my favorite in the film. And the more I think about it, of course Ramis gave Bill Murray the best one-liners; he was probably more interested in playing support. Even among a group of nerds, Harold Ramis chose to play the nerd.
After Ghostbusters, Ramis would go on to write and direct several other fine films including Groundhog Day, a quietly brilliant movie that I appreciate more and more with each passing year. (Does any mainstream film offer shaper insight into the life of a video game character? Perhaps not.) He also directed Analyze This and helmed some great episodes of The Office. His later work didn't have the same impact on me as Ghostbusters did, but every time I'd see his name pop up somewhere I'd feel reassured. Hey, cool, Harold Ramis helped make this. I love that guy.
I like to imagine Ramis as a kindhearted man with a glint in his eye and a faint sharpness to his jokes. My most recent memory of seeing him on screen was his cameo in Knocked Up, playing Seth Rogen's character's dad. It was a small but generous performance, a comedy scion graciously passing the torch to the next generation.
"Life doesn't care about your 'vision,'" he tells his son. "You just gotta roll with it."
Rest in peace, Harold Ramis. Thank you for your big-hearted humor, and for your embrace of the joy of failure and the triumph of the underdog. Thank you for making your movies smarter than they needed to be, and for always leaving room for the outcasts to win in the end. You will be missed.