Ivan Reitman, the influential filmmaker and producer behind beloved comedies from Animal House to Ghostbusters, has died. He was 75.
Reitman died peacefully in his sleep on Saturday night (Feb 12) 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’s big break came 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 US$300 million worldwide, it earned two Oscar nominations, spawned a veritable franchise, including spinoffs, television shows and a new movie, Ghostbusters: Afterlife, that opened this last year. His son, filmmaker Jason Reitman directed.
“A legend,” comedian and actor Kumail Nanjiani said on Twitter. “The number of great movies he made is absurd.”
Among other notable films he directed are Twins, Kindergarten Cop, Dave, Junior and 1998’s Six Days, Seven Nights. He also produced Beethoven, Old School and EuroTrip, and many others, including several for his son.
He was born in Komárno, Czechoslovakia, in 1946 where his father owned the country’s biggest vinegar factory. His mother had survived Auschwitz and his father was in the resistance. When the communists began imprisoning capitalists after the war, the Reitmans decided to escape, when Ivan Reitman was only four. They travelled 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 theatre, 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 US$12,000, Reitman made a nine-day movie, Cannibal Girls, which American International agreed to release. He produced on a US$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. Though not even being the father of three children could have prepared him for the arduous task of directing 30 children between the ages of four and seven in the Arnold Schwarzenegger comedy.
The political comedy Dave, starring Kevin Kline as an ordinary man who has to double for the US President, provided a bit of a departure for Reitman. Roger Ebert wrote at the time that “The movie is more proof that it isn’t what you do, it’s how you do it: Ivan Reitman’s direction and Gary Ross’ screenplay use intelligence and warmhearted sentiment to make Dave into wonderful lighthearted entertainment”.
Reitman slowed down as a director after Six Days, Seven Nights, the 1998 adventure comedy with Harrison Ford and Anne Heche – only four films would follow Evolution, My Super Ex-Girlfriend, No Strings Attached and Draft Day, from 2014.
But he continued producing and, with Ghostbusters: Afterlife, even found himself on the press circuit with his son, providing emotional moments for both with the passing of the baton.
When asked late last year why the 1984 film continued to fascinate, Reitman told the AP that it was hard to define.
“I always had a sort of sincere approach to the comedy,” he said. “I took it seriously even though, it was a horror movie and a comedy, I felt you had to sort of deal with it in a kind of realistic and honest way.”