And if you grew up in the 80’s, chances are he was for you too.
When I first read the words ‘RIP Harold Ramis’ posted all over Facebook, I was hoping it was one of those awful Internet hoaxes. Like the time everyone thought Lou Ferringo had accidentally impaled himself with a mop while training for Dancing with the Stars.
I thought those Facebook ‘friends’ of mine, the ones that get a hard-on when celebrities die, just so they can be the first to write ‘RIP’ in their feed, were jumping the gun. Unfortunately, it was all-too true. The great Harold Ramis was dead.
Normally I wouldn’t shed a tear over a dead celebrity. When Phillip Seymour Hoffman died, I got him mixed up with Paul Giamatti. When Paul Walker died, I did an extra shot of Johnnie Walker. But Harold Ramis was different. His death was personal. It was as if a favorite Uncle had died. The Uncle that would sneak you sips of beer while your parents weren’t looking.
And then I realized that I’d unknowingly been raised by this paragon of comedy.
Before I watched my first Harold Ramis film in the early 80’s, I still believed in authority figures. Principals, parents and police officers were to be respected and obeyed. Like most kids from the suburbs, I was under the impression that ‘Just Say No’ was the way to go. After all, Nancy Regan and Mr. T told us so when they guest starred in that episode of Different Strokes. The one where Dudley and Arnold get themselves hooked on weed and end up giving hand-jobs for nickel bags down at the bike shop, or something like that.
My views changed, however, the night my father caught my older sister and her boyfriend sucking face in our basement. What the kid left behind, besides a purplish trajectory of Orion’s belt on my sister’s neck, was his VHS copy of Animal House. The movie that would put an end to my pre-pubescent naivety.
After spending a month wearing out the ‘Pause’ and ‘Rewind’ buttons on my VCR, Bluto, Otter, Boon, Pinto, Flounder and the rest of the boys from Delta House became my heroes. Unlike heroes from most of the films I watched, they weren’t saving the world, or scoring the winning touchdown, things that seemed well beyond my reach. They weren’t studying hard, bathing daily or practicing good manners, things that I’d been warned I’d have to start doing if I ever hoped to meet a ‘nice girl’. They also weren’t ‘Just Saying, No’, yet none of them ended up giving head at a bike shop.
Animal House opened my virgin eyes. There was a place in this world for a fuck-up like me. I wasn’t going to end up sleeping in the gutter behind OTB, as my “real” father so often warned would happen, if I didn’t buckle down and get good grades.
Sex wasn’t something that only happened between married people in love. Sex also happened in the back of a car, with someone you just met at a bar, in the wrong part of town. A fact that my Health teacher failed to mention during his 7th grade baby-making seminar.
Alcohol wasn’t just something ‘to be consumed’ by responsible adults during special occasions. Alcohol could be chugged, haphazardly, for shits and giggles. You could play with your food, especially mashed potatoes, and nobody would give a shit if you were raised in a barn or not.
If someone was picking on you, there were better ways to handle it than ‘talking’ it out or telling a teacher. You could also get even, by drugging their horse, banging the Dean’s wife, and by using varying degrees of debauchery and mayhem to rattle the status quo.
But Animal House wasn’t the only Ramis masterpiece to influence my adolescent years. In fact, the first R-rated movie I ever snuck into was when I ditched Lucas for a Saturday matinée of National Lampoon’s Vacation. That magical afternoon, I was introduced to the concept of jerking-off when Rusty and his inbred cousin talked about all the fun you could have with skin magazines.
At first, I didn’t really understand why you would want to use your penis for anything other than a light saber-pissing match with a friend. Then Christie Brinkley pulled up in her red Ferrari, and my whole world changed. Watching her gyrate to the beat of June Pointer’s, Little Boy Sweet was the first time anything other than a cool breeze had given me an erection. I looked over at my two friends, and I could tell that they were also feeling the ‘itch’ by the way they covered their laps with popcorn tubs.
When I got home, I found a stash of my mother’s People magazines. Sure enough, there was a spread of Christie Brinkley featuring pictures of her riding a horse and strolling along a beach in South Hampton wearing a little pink bikini. There was also a picture of her holding hands with Billy Joel, which immediately sent me begging to my parents for piano lessons. Thanks to Harold Ramis, by the end of that weekend I had a brand new hobby (I also had a lot of explaining to do when my mother eventually found her People magazines.)
Harry also taught me that G.I. Joe was way, way, too, uptight. After watching Stripes , I no longer wanted to be Sgt. Slaughter or Duke when we played Army, I wanted to be Bill Murray. He had all the fun, got all the chicks and still ended up saving the day, despite being a wiseass.
Caddyshack taught me a surefire way to get out of swimming lessons, as long as I could save enough quarters from my Pac-Man stash for the vending machines at camp.
Ghostbusters taught me not to be afraid of no ghosts, especially when they look as hot as a possessed Sigourney Weaver, floating four feet above her covers. Because of that scene my sock drawer ended up looking, feeling, and smelling like Mr. Stay Puft blew up in it.
I could go on and on about how much Harold Ramis has meant to my life. How much he inspired me. How much he made me laugh. In fact, I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t be where I am today, if it hadn’t been for Harold Ramis and the influence his work had on my formative teenage years.
Now excuse me, while I go earn some extra money for nickel bags behind OTB.