Ivan Reitman, the influential filmmaker and producer behind beloved comedies from “National Lampoon’s Animal House” to “Ghostbusters,” has died. He was 75.
Reitman died peacefully in his sleep Saturday night at his home in Montecito, California, his family told The Associated Press.
“Our family is grieving the unexpected loss of a husband, father, and grandfather who taught us to always seek the magic in life,” children Jason Reitman, Catherine Reitman and Caroline Reitman said in a joint statement. “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.”
Known for big, bawdy comedies that caught the spirit of their time, Reitman had his first big break with the raucous, college fraternity sendup “National Lampoon’s Animal House,” which he produced. He directed Bill Murray in his first starring role in “Meatballs” and then again in “Stripes,” but his most significant success came with 1984’s “Ghostbusters.”
Not only did the irreverent supernatural comedy starring Murray, Dan Aykroyd, Harold Ramis, Ernie Hudson, Sigourney Weaver and Rick Moranis gross nearly $300 million worldwide, it earned two Oscar nominations, spawned a veritable franchise, including spinoffs, television shows and sequels. One of them, “Ghostbusters: Afterlife,” opened just last year. His son, filmmaker Jason Reitman directed.
Among other notable films he directed are “Twins,” “Kindergarten Cop,” “Dave,” “Junior” and “Six Days, Seven Nights.” He also produced “Beethoven,” “Old School” and “EuroTrip,” and many others, including several for his son.
He was born in Komarmo, Czechoslovakia, in 1946 where his father owned the country’s biggest vinegar factory. When the communists began imprisoning capitalists after the war, the Reitmans decided to escape, when Ivan Reitman was only 4. They traveled in the nailed-down hold of a barge headed for Vienna.
“I remember flashes of scenes,” Reitman told the AP in 1979. “Later they told me about how they gave me a couple of sleeping pills so I wouldn’t make any noise. I was so knocked out that I slept with my eyes open. My parents were afraid I was dead.”
The Reitmans joined a relative in Toronto, where Ivan displayed his show biz inclinations: starting a puppet theater, entertaining at summer camps, playing coffee houses with a folk music group. He studied music and drama at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario, and began making movie shorts.
With friends and $12,000, Reitman made a nine-day movie, “Cannibal Girls,” which American International agreed to release. He produced on a $500 budget a weekly TV revue, “Greed,” with Dan Aykroyd, and became associated with the Lampoon group in its off-Broadway revue that featured John Belushi, Gilda Radner and Murray. That soon led to “Animal House.”
By the time 1990’s “Kindergarten Cop” came around, Reitman had established himself as the most successful comedy director in history. Not even being the father of three children could have prepared him for the arduous task of directing 30 children between the ages of 4 and 7 in the Arnold Schwarzenegger comedy.
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