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The Stoned Comic Genius of Harold Ramis

Best Buds: Bill Murray and Harold Ramis co-starred in "Stripes" and worked together on a number of other movies.

Stoner-movie pioneer Harold Ramis co-wrote Animal House, directed Caddyshack, and co-starred with Bill Murray in Stripes and the two Ghostbusters films. Ramis passed away today of vasculitits. He was 69.

The story of a frat (Delta House) that won't follow any campus rules, Animal House set the tone for many stoner flicks to come. Pitting Delta House against the conservative Omega House, it's the cool kids vs. the squares. Delta House thumb their noses at anyone - Omega House, Faber College administration, townies - who get in their way.

In one groundbreaking scene (see clip below), students smoke a joint with a prof played by Donald Sutherland. After a spacey conversation, Pinto (Tom Hulce) asks Prof. Jennings, "Can I buy some pot from you?"

Eight years removed from the '60s, Animal House was written for and clearly sided with the stoners.

Ramis, who got his start with the Second City comedy troupe in Chicago where he met Bill Murray, followed with Meatballs, a summer-camp spoof starring Murray in his breakout role.

In 1980, Ramis went behind the camera for Caddyshack, which he also wrote. A light-hearted comedy about saving a local golf course from real-estate speculators, it once again featured Murray in a signature role - befuddled course greenskeeper Carl Spackler, who likes to get stoned on his own strain of marijuana. "This is a cross of Kentucky Bluegrass, Featherbed Bent and Northern California Sinsemilla," Carl tells Ty (Chevy Chase) before they spark up a "big Bob Marley joint," "The amazing stuff about this is that you can play 36 holes on it in the afternoon, take it home and just get stoned to the bejesus-belt that night on this stuff. I've got pounds of this stuff." Carl likes to top it off with a swig of cheap white wine, what he calls a "Cannonball." (Cue to the two-minute mark in the clip below.)

The next year Ramis and Murray teamed up again on Stripes, a slapstick Army comedy directed by Ivan Reitman. John (Murray) and Russell (Ramis) need a jolt of excitement in their lives so they decide to enlist. Hilarity ensues as they become the platoon cut-ups to the consternation of drill Sgt, Hulka (Warren Oates). There's one pot-smoking scene at the beginning of the movie, but a few others were edited out.

While he wasn't doing movies, Ramis wrote for the Canadian late-night comedy sketch show, SCTV, which rivaled Saturday Night Live during both shows' heydays in the '70s.

In 1983, Ramis also directed, but did not write (John Hughes did), National Lampoon's Vacation, another Chevy Chase vehicle in which the lead character, Clark, has a memorable marijuana scene.

Then came Ghostbusters in 1984, Ramis' most successful movie ever, which he co-wrote with Dan Aykroyd and co-starred in with Murray and Aykroyd (Reitman directed). Not a stoner movie per se, it's a satire of outrageous proportions that spun off a 1989 sequel, several video games and one memorable line, "Who you gonna call?"

Ramis returned to the stoner-movie genre in 1986 with Club Paradise, set on a fictional Caribbean island where the ganja is plentiful. Two whacky tourists named Barry (Rick Moranis and Eugene Levy, both from SCTV) head out on a misadventure to cop some weed and end up in a plane with several pounds. Robin Williams and Jimmy Cliff also star in this flick about saving the island hot-spot (similar to the Caddyshack theme).

Ramis wouldn't direct again until Groundhog Day in 1993, starring Murray in the lead role, followed by Stuart Saves His Family, Multiplicity, Analyze This, Bedazzled, Analyze That, The Ice Harvest and, finally, Year One in 2009, his last movie.

Many platitudes will be written about Ramis, but few will note his stoner-movie credentials. Harold Ramis was a comic genius who never shied away from a good pot joke. Current directors and writers would stand to to benefit by emulating his high style.

Steve Bloom

Steve Bloom

Publisher of CelebStoner.com, former editor of High Times and Freedom Leaf and co-author of Pot Culture and Reefer Movie Madness.