Ivan Reitman, the Canadian writer-director who brought gross-out, slobs-versus-snobs comedy to the mainstream with hit movies like Meatballs and Stripes, pioneered the 1980s blockbuster with Ghostbusters and helped Bill Murray transition from SNL veteran to movie star, died Saturday at the age of 75. Reitman’s family confirmed the filmmaker’s death to the Associated Press. A cause of death was not immediately available.
“Our family is grieving the unexpected loss of a husband, father, and grandfather who taught us to always seek the magic in life,” Reitman’s children Jason, Catherine and Caroline said in a 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.”
A Czechslovakian immigrant raised in Canada, Reitman began his film career as a producer for two of David Cronenberg’s early horror films — 1975’s Shivers and 1977’s Rabid — before producing National Lampoon’s Animal House in 1978. Directed by John Landis, the iconoclastic film about a rebellious frat was a huge hit and helped establish a template for broad, no-holds-barred comedy that would dominate screens for the next decade. Reitman directed Meatballs the following year, teaming up with Bill Murray for the first of several collaborations.
Reitman would go on to become one of the preeminent comedy directors of the 1980s, including 1981’s Stripes and 1988’s Twins, the latter starring Arnold Schwarzenegger and Danny DeVito who discover that they’re fraternal twins.
But Reitman’s biggest hit was 1984’s sci-fi/comedy blockbuster Ghostbusters starring Murray, Stripes star Harold Ramis, and Dan Aykroyd as parapsychologists who trap ghosts around New York. Originally a vehicle for Aykroyd (who wrote the film) and John Belushi, the universally acclaimed film became one of the highest-grossing movies of the year and earned two Oscar nominations. It would also spawn a series of television shows and sequels, with Reitman helming 1989’s Ghostbuster II before ceding the 2016 reboot to Paul Feig and last year’s Ghostbusters: Afterlife to his son, director Jason Reitman. (Ivan remained involved in the franchise, producing the latter.)
“The movie I’d be interested in doing should be set today in New York,” Reitman recalled to Rolling Stone in 2016. “I think these guys should be people who are dabbling in parapsychology, probably at a university. They get into trouble, they get kicked out, and then they go into business for themselves. And it turns out it’s a good business.
“[When I work with comedians], I treat them as writers as well as performers,” he added. “I’m always looking for a way to keep the scene fresh and dramatically on point or comedically on point, so I do encourage improvisation. And then I do a lot of editing from take to take where I’ll say, “That was great, keep that, but go back to the script for this paragraph. I think it falls better.”
Reitman’s streak would continue in the 1990s, as the director reunited with Schwarzenegger for 1990’s Kindergarten Cop and 1994’s Junior about a man who gets pregnant. His work as a director would slow down after 1998’s Six Days, Seven Nights, yet he never remained far from film. As a producer, Reitman helped shepherd 2009’s Up in the Air (which would earn a Best Picture Oscar nomination) and the 2012 biographical drama Hitchcock, while executive producing some of the 2000s’ most quotable comedies, including Old School and Road Trip.
“I’m in absolute shock,” Feig tweeted. “I had the honor of working so closely with Ivan and it was always such a learning experience. He directed some of my favorite comedies of all time. All of us in comedy owe him so very much.”