Evan Reitman, the influential director and producer behind many of the most beloved comedies of the late 20th century, from “Animal House” to “Ghostbusters,” has passed away. He was 75 years old.
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 look for the magic in life,” children Jason Reitman, Katherine Reitman and Caroline Reitman said in a joint statement. “We are relieved that his work as a director has brought countless others around the world laughter and happiness. As we mourn in private, we hope that those who knew him through his films will always remember him.”
Known for punk comedy that captured the zeitgeist of their era, Reitman’s big break came with the raucous collector fraternity film National Lampoon’s Animal House he produced. Bill Murray directed his first starring role in summer camp “Metballs” and then again in 1981’s “Strips”, but his biggest 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 Academy Award nominations, spawning a true franchise. , including spin-offs, TV shows, and a new movie, “Ghostbusters: Afterlife,” which opened last year. It was directed by his son, director Jason Reitman.
Paul Feig, who directed the 2016 reboot of “Ghostbusters,” tweeted that he was in shock.
“I was honored to work closely with Evan and it has always been a learning experience,” Feige wrote. “He directed some of my favorite comedies of all time. All of us in comedies owe him a lot.”
“Legend,” comedian and actor Kumail Nanjiani said on Twitter. “The number of great movies he’s made is ridiculous.”
Other notable films he has directed include Twins, Kindergarten, Dave, Junior and Six Days and Seven Nights of 1998. He has also produced Beethoven, Old School, Eurotrip and many more. From other films, including his son’s Oscar-nominated movie “Up in the Air.”
He was born in Komarno, Czechoslovakia in 1946, where his father owned the largest vinegar factory in the country. His mother survived Auschwitz and his father was in the resistance. When the communists began imprisoning the capitalists after the war, the Reitmanns decided to escape, when Ivan Reitmann was only four years old, traveling in the hold of a barge bound for Vienna.
“I remember flashes of scenes,” Reitman told the Associated Press in 1979. “Later they told me how they gave me some sleeping pills so I wouldn’t make any noise. I was so grounded that I fell asleep with my eyes open. My parents were afraid I was dead.”
Joined by a relative in Toronto, Al Reitman showed Evan his business inclinations: starting a puppet theater, entertaining at summer camps, playing cafés with a folk music group. He studied music and drama at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario, and began making short films.
With friends and $12,000, Reitman produced a nine-day movie called Cannibal Girls, which American International agreed to release. On a budget of $500, he produced a weekly television play “Grid” with Dan Aykroyd, and became associated with the Lampoon Group in an Off-Broadway play featuring John Belushi, Gilda Radner, and Murray. Soon this led to “Animal House”.
Reitman seized the moment after the massive success of “Animal House” and raised money to direct “Meatballs,” which would be even more terrifying than “Animal House.”
He himself chose Murray to star, which would be a big break for the comedian, but Ramis later said that Reitman didn’t know if Murray would actually appear until the first day of filming. But it was the start of a fruitful, long-term partnership that would produce the war comedy Stripes, which Reitman said he thought of on the way to the premiere of Metballs and Ghostbusters.
Reitman also put Schwarzenegger in his first major comedy, opposite Danny DeVito in “The Twins.” There was uncertainty around the project as everyone lost their fee for a share of the profits, which would have been a lucrative deal when the film made $216 million against a production budget of $18 million. In September 2021, a sequel was announced, “Triplets” were in the works with Reitman to direct his original cast, as well as Tracy Morgan as their long-lost brother.
By the time “Kindergarten Cop” came out in the ’90s, Reitman had established himself as the most successful comedy director in history. Although he was not even a father of three, it prepared him for the grueling task of directing 30 children between the ages of 4 and 7 in a Schwarzenegger comedy.
The political comedy Dave, starring Kevin Klein as an ordinary man who should double as the President of the United States, provided a bit of a departure from Reitman. Roger Ebert wrote at the time that “the film is more proof that it’s not what you do, but how you do it: Evan Reitman’s directing and Gary Ross’ screenplays use intelligence and warm feelings to make Dave into great entertainment.”
Reitman slowed down as director after 1998’s adventure comedy “Six Days, Seven Nights” with Harrison Ford and Anne Heche – only four films to follow “Evolution,” “My Super Ex-Girlfriend,” “No Strings Attached,” and “Draft Day.” , from 2014.
But he continued to produce. His company, Montecito Picture Co., produced it. Todd Phillips’ first film, “Road Trip”. And with “Ghostbusters: Afterlife,” he finds himself in the press circle with his son, providing emotional moments for both as the wand dies. Jason Reitman, who was only seven years old when the original version was released, included some nods to his father’s films like “Beethoven” and “Cannibals” in “The Afterlife.”
Directing Ghostbusters Afterlife was absolutely intimidating,” Jason Reitman said last year. “I was lucky enough to do it sitting next to my dad.”
When asked why the 1984 movie continues to dazzle, Reitman told the Associated Press that it’s hard to pin down.
“I’ve always had a kind of honest approach to comedy,” he said. “I took it very seriously even though it was a horror movie and a comedy, I felt you had to take it in a realistic and honest way.”
He always took comedy and the power of laughter very seriously.
“A great cliché is about how hard comedy is. But of course, no one really gives that any respect,” he told the Los Angeles Times in 2000. “It’s such a deep thing, he laughs. So getting to the point where you can get 600 people to laugh is a really delicate and complicated business. … My sense is that we laugh at the same things we have always laughed at, but the language of the director and artist is changing.”
Andrew Dalton, AP Entertainment Report reporter, contributed from Los Angeles. John Carucci contributed from New York.
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