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'Groundhog Day' Producer, Chicago Native Harold Ramis Dies at 69

The filmmaker and actor with hits like ‘Ghostbusters’ and ‘Groundhog Day’ worked from Highland Park after leaving L.A. nearly 20 years ago. Most of 'Groundhog Day' was filmed in Woodstock.

Written by Emily Stone and Amie Schaenzer

Comedic actor, director, writer and producer Harold Ramis died Monday morning, according to the Chicago Tribune. He was 69 and died from complications of a rare autoimmune disease.

Ramis worked on some of the best-known and loved comedies of the past several decades. Among his many credits, he was a writer on National Lampoon’s Animal House and Ghostbusters, in which he also starred, and directed Caddyshack and Groundhog Day, which he also produced.

Ramis, who was born in Chicago, returned to the Chicago area in 1993 to film his hit movie Groundhog Day in nearby Woodstock. Each year in the days leading up to Groundhog Day, Woodstock celebrates with its Groundhog Days festival. This past year, the festival including a showing of the movie and a walking tour of filming sites. 

"In 1992, something astonishing happened in the historic city of Woodstock, Illinois. People came to town and roped off the picturesque city square, moved all sorts of equipment into the park and started playing the Pennsylvania Polka, over and over and over again," according to the festival's website. "They were filming a movie that has become a favorite of young and old for more than 15 years, and the city gathers each year to remember the fun and celebrate the special community that Woodstock has always been. "

Posted on the Groundhogs Days festival website is commentary from Ramis on why Woodstock was selected for filming the iconic film. Here is what he had to say in the movie's commentary regarding the film site: 

We didn't use Punxsatawney for the film because Punxsatawney itself didn't have a real town center that looked very good on camera, so we wanted a town that looked perfect so the town you'll see is Woodstock, IL.

We scouted all of southern Wisconsin and northern Illinois looking for the perfect town and we pulled into Woodstock just the way the van pulls into town in the movie. It was the last town we saw and we looked at this little town square and though 'aw', this is perfect. This is what Punxsatawney should look like.

It has a courthouse where a very famous case was tried, there a jail attached to it - the lighter colored building. Eugene Debs, father of American Socialism, was tried there and was defended by Clarance Darrow. We played the beautiful building on the square as a hotel, but it's actually a beautifully restored Opera House. .

In the actual groundhog ceremony in Punxsatawney takes place in a park outside of town, almost like a forest preserve. But one thing we loved about this central square in Woodstock was that we could do the ceremony right here. The pavillion in the park is actually a large gazebo, but we built a pavillion for the groundhog that is an exact match to the one in Punxsatawney. They actually sent delegates from Punxsatwawney to make sure we were portraying the groundhog ceremony accurately. They were very jealous that the movie wasn't shot in Punxsatawney, but when they saw Woodstock they thought it looked better than their town.

Ramis left L.A. in 1996 and settled on the North Shore while his career was thriving, according to the Tribune. He continued to produce hits from here, such as Analyze This. He based his Ocean Pictures production company in Highland Park.

In this YouTube clip from the Highland Park Library he talks about why he loves libraries and books. Reading he says, “keeps the mind alive."

Gov. Pat Quinn issued the following statement Monday regarding Ramis' death: 

Harold Ramis was one of those truly rare people who could make us laugh and think at the same time. The joy he brought to our lives and the generous way he shared his talent with us have made the world a better place.

Harold called Illinois home no matter where his fame took him, and as a state we have been blessed by his achievements and generosity.

Because of Harold, many often smile when thinking about college, golf, taking a vacation, boot camp, ghosts, Groundhog Day, or any of the things depicted in his unforgettable body of work.

I join the people of Illinois in offering our condolences to his wife Erica and children Violet, Julian and Daniel. Their husband and father taught us how to take ourselves less seriously, and for that we are forever grateful.”       

Like many comedic stars in recent decades, Ramis was an alumni of The Second City

Andrew Alexander, CEO & Executive Producer of The Second City, in a statement Monday said it was "impossible to overstate the personal and professional influence that Harold Ramis has had on all of us at The Second City." 

"He was a natural leader, a trusted friend and so generous with his own talent that he made everyone he ever worked with look like a genius," Alexander said in the statement. "We are devastated to lose him so young but we were all enriched by the years we did get to partake of his particular brilliance." 

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