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Ghostbusters Director Ivan Reitman Dies at 75, Leaves Behind a Rich Comedy Legacy


Ivan Reitman
Image via Sony Pictures

Some people grew up on Star Wars. Others on Star Trek. Some grew up on Marvel comics. Others were loyal DC readers. Some loved James Bond, while others preferred Indiana Jones. Of course, most people love all of these things. But me? I didn’t love any of them. I loved Ghostbusters, which by extension means that I loved Ivan Reitman, who was both the gatekeeper and keymaster of that beloved franchise. And now he has died, having passed away in his sleep on Feb. 12 at his home in Montecito, California, from which his production company, the Montecito Picture Company, took its name. He was 75.

Reitman was born in Czechoslovakia to a mother who was a Holocaust survivor and a father who fought in the Czech resistance. After WWII ended, the family emigrated to the U.S. to escape communism before eventually settling in Toronto. He attended McMaster University in Hamilton, where he made his first short films and met future comedy legends such as Martin Short, Eugene Levy, and Rick Moranis, the latter of whom would go on to star in Reitman’s biggest hit, Ghostbusters.

But first, Reitman had to pay his dues, which included making a comedy show for a local Canadian TV station with the help of a friend named Dan Aykroyd; directing the 1973 horror spoof Cannibal Girls starring Levy; and producing two of David Cronenberg‘s early horror films — Shivers and Rabid.

Those two genre movies led to Reitman being offered the chance to produce a raunchy college frat comedy called Animal House, which was written by a couple of guys from National Lampoon and a nerdy-looking guy named Harold Ramis. It grossed $140 million in the U.S. alone, giving Reitman the opportunity to direct a studio feature. Thus came Meatballs (1979) and Stripes (1980), both starring a very funny gentleman named Bill Murray.

Aykroyd. Ramis. Murray. Reitman. Individually, each of those names meant something in the Hollywood of the early ’80s, but they would be infinitely more powerful as a group. So in 1983, when Reitman dusted off an old treatment for a supernatural comedy that Aykroyd had written for his SNL pal John Belushi, who had died the previous year, it was only natural to think of Murray and eventual co-writer Ramis for two of the film’s leads.

Image via Sony Pictures

Reitman directed and produced the subsequent movie, Ghostbusters, which spawned a long-running animated series, a hit theme song from Ray Parker Jr., and enough toys and lunch boxes to fill an Ecto-Containment Unit. It also launched a sequel, Ghostbusters II, which underperformed in the U.S. in comparison to the first film, but nonetheless remains one of my favorite sequels ever. Reitman’s son, Jason Reitman, took over the reins of the paranormal franchise late last year with Ghostbusters: Afterlife, which paid tribute to Ramis’ memory. Meanwhile, the less said about Paul Feig‘s 2016 reboot, the better.

Of course, Reitman was so much more than the Ghostbusters franchise, as he also directed the excellent Arnold Schwarzenegger movies Twins and Kindergarten Cop, as well as Junior, all of which showed a different side of the Terminator star. The 1993 Kevin Kline comedy Dave was another feather in his cap, and Reitman actually ended his directing career on a relative high note, as 2014’s Draft Day was well-liked, for the most part, by critics and audiences alike. Reitman also found time to produce hit family films such as Space Jam and the Beethoven movies, and films that weren’t quite so family-friendly, such as Howard Stern‘s Private Parts and the animated extravaganza Heavy Metal.

And yet, I can’t imagine Reitman being more proud than he must have been when he shared an Oscar nomination for Best Picture with his son, Jason, as two of the three producers of Up in the Air.

“I’ve lost my hero. All I want is the chance to tell my father one more story. He came from a family of survivors and turned his legacy into laughter,” Jason wrote on Twitter. “Thank you for the kind messages. Enjoy his movies and remember his storytelling gifts. Nothing would make him happier.”

Ghostbusters: Afterlife
Image via Sony Pictures

That message was echoed by Jason’s sisters, Catherine and Caroline Reitman, who issued a joint statement along with their Oscar-winning brother.

“Our family is grieving the unexpected loss of a husband, father, and grandfather who taught us to always seek the magic in life. 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.”

“Tonight, the lady with the torch weeps, as do all of us at Columbia, and film lovers around the world,” said Tom Rothman, chairman/CEO of Sony Pictures. “Ivan Reitman was an inseparable part of this studio’s legacy, but more than that he was a friend. A great talent and an even finer man; he will be dearly missed. We send his family all our condolences.”

Indeed, we’ll all miss Ivan Reitman, who struck me as a wise and personable fellow who was always eager to give back to younger generations of filmmakers. For 15 years or so, he was the guy to call when Hollywood needed a director for a high-concept comedy brimming with commercial potential. I’ll miss the sense of humor he helped usher in on the big screen, and I envy our younger readers who may be prompted to seek out and watch some of Reitman’s work.

Ivan Reitman is gone, and to quote Dr. Peter Venkman, “what a crime.” To quote another doctor, one Egon Spengler, “we’d like to get a sample of your brain tissue.” Rest in peace, sir, and thanks for the many, many laughs.

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