Ivan Reitman, the famous filmmaker and producer behind many of the late 20th century’s most adored comedies, including “Animal House” and “Ghostbusters,” has died. He was 75.
His family told The Associated Press that Reitman died quietly in his sleep Saturday night at his home in Montecito, Calif.
“Our family is grieving the untimely loss of a husband, father, and grandfather who taught us to always seek the magic in life,” said Jason, Catherine, and Caroline Reitman in a statement. “We take solace in the fact that his work as a filmmaker gave joy and amusement to countless others all across the world.” While we grieve individually, we hope that those who knew him via his films will never forget him.”
Reitman’s big break came when he produced the raunchy college fraternity sendup “National Lampoon’s Animal House,” which he wrote and directed. He directed Bill Murray in his first leading role in the summer camp comedy “Meatballs,” and again in 1981’s “Stripes,” but “Ghostbusters” was his most notable hit.
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, but it also earned two Academy Award nominations and spawned a veritable franchise, including spinoffs, television shows, and a new film, “Ghostbusters: Afterlife,” which debuted this year. Jason Reitman, his son, directed the picture.
Paul Feig, who helmed the “Ghostbusters” reboot in 2016, expressed his surprise on Twitter.
Feig remarked, “I had the opportunity of working so closely with Ivan, and it was always such a learning experience.” “He directed some of my all-time favorite comedy. He owes so much to the comedy community.”
Kumail Nanjiani, a comedian and actor, described himself as “a legend” on Twitter. “He made an unbelievable quantity of wonderful films.”
“Twins,” “Kindergarten Cop,” “Dave,” “Junior,” and 1998’s “Six Days, Seven Nights” are among his other significant flicks. He also produced several additional films, including his son’s Oscar-nominated picture “Up in the Air.”
In 1946, he was born in Komárno, Czechoslovakia, where his father owned the largest vinegar business in the country. His mother was an Auschwitz survivor, while his father was a resistance fighter. When the communists began imprisoning capitalists after the war, the Reitmans opted to flee with Ivan Reitman, who was just four years old at the time. They sailed to Vienna in the nailed-down hold of a barge.
In 1979, Reitman told the Associated Press, “I remember flashes of scenes.” “They later informed me that they gave me some sleeping pills so I wouldn’t make any noise.” I was knocked unconscious to the point where I slept with my eyes open. My parents thought I was dead.”
Ivan started a puppet theatre, entertained at summer camps, and played coffee houses with a folk music group when the Reitmans moved to Toronto to live with a relative. He began making movie shorts while studying music and acting at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario.
Reitman made the nine-day film “Cannibal Girls” with the help of friends and $12,000, which American International decided to release. On a $500 budget, he produced “Greed,” a weekly TV revue with Dan Aykroyd, and became affiliated with the Lampoon group in their off-Broadway show with John Belushi, Gilda Radner, and Murray. The result was “Animal House.”
After the tremendous success of “Animal House,” Reitman grasped the opportunity to collect funds to direct “Meatballs,” which would be a more family-friendly film than “Animal House.”
He hand-picked Murray to star in the film, which would be a big break for the comedian, but Ramis subsequently revealed that Reitman didn’t know if Murray would show up until the first day of shooting. But it was the start of a long and profitable relationship that would result in the war comedy “Stripes,” which Reitman said he came up with on the way to the premiere of “Meatballs,” and “Ghostbusters.”
Reitman also cast Schwarzenegger opposite Danny DeVito in “Twins,” his first major comedy. Because the project was so unclear, everyone agreed to forego their pay in exchange for a portion of the profits, which turned out to be a lucrative agreement as the picture grossed $216 million against an $18 million production budget. The sequel, “Triplets,” was announced in September 2021, with Reitman directing his original actors and Tracy Morgan playing their long-lost brother.
Reitman had established himself as the most successful comedy director in history by the time “Kindergarten Cop” arrived in the 1990s. Even being the father of three children could not have prepared him for the difficult task of directing 30 children aged 4 to 7 in the Arnold Schwarzenegger comedy.
Reitman took a step back with the political comedy “Dave,” featuring Kevin Kline as an ordinary man who has to double for the US President. “The movie is another proof that it isn’t what you do, it’s how you do it: Ivan Reitman’s direction and Gary Ross’s screenplay employ knowledge and warmhearted feeling to make Dave into fantastic lighthearted entertainment,” Roger Ebert remarked at the time.
Following “Six Days, Seven Nights,” a 1998 adventure comedy starring Harrison Ford and Anne Heche, Reitman would only helm four more films: “Evolution,” “My Super Ex-Girlfriend,” “No Strings Attached,” and “Draft Day,” all released in 2014.
However, he continued to work. Todd Phillips’ first film, “Road Trip,” was produced by his company, the Montecito Picture Co. With “Ghostbusters: Afterlife,” he even went on the press tour with his son, providing emotional moments for both with the baton transfer. In “Afterlife,” Jason Reitman, who was only 7 when the original was released, inserted references to his father’s works like “Beethoven” and “Cannibal Girls.”
Last year, Jason Reitman claimed, “Directing ‘Ghostbusters Afterlife’ was completely terrifying.” “I was fortunate enough to be able to do it while sitting next to my father.”
It’s difficult to articulate why the 1984 film continues to captivate, Reitman told the Associated Press.
“I’ve always taken a serious approach to comedy,” he explained. “Even though it was a horror film and a comedy, I felt you had to deal with it truly and honestly,” says the actor.
He was always serious about humor and the power of laughter.
“The great cliche is that comedy is incredibly challenging. But, of course, no one pays attention to that,” he told the Los Angeles Times in 2000. “Laughing is such a visceral thing.” So getting to the point where you can make a 600-person audience laugh takes a lot of time and effort… My impression is that we’re laughing at the same things we’ve always laughed at, but the director and performer’s vocabulary alters.”