I won’t act like I don’t get down about celebrity deaths now and again. As a kid I cried when I watched a documentary about Freddie Mercury passing away, I got pretty sad about Steve Irwin for some reason, and I thought Heath Ledger’s passing was a big damn shame. But even still, in all those cases they still struck me as far-away people whom I never would have met anyway and whose passing wouldn’t affect me on a personal level too much. I would feel like that about really any celebrity death since, even Leslie Nielson’s.
That was before one of the Ghostbusters died.
I don’t want to reduce Harold Ramis’ career down to two movies. Considering his impact on American comedy as a whole it would be disrespectful and reductive to pretend like he was only ever Egon Spengler. He had a family, he had friends, and he wasn’t just ‘the smart Ghostbuster’. He did help create the idea of Ghostbusters, though, and without it I’d probably be a much different person. Hyperbolic? Yeah, a little. I can’t help feeling like that’s the case, though.
Look at me, for a second. Big nosed, dark haired, bespectacled. I’ve looked like that most of my life and guys who look like me don’t have a lot of heroes. Dexter from Dexter’s Laboratory came close, but he was tiny and ginger. The Blue Ranger was a big doofy weiner who wore overalls. Even through most of the 90’s, being smart and needing glasses meant you were a giant lameass.
Egon Spengler was better than all that. Egon was probably the baddest-assed of all the Ghostbusters, and those were dudes whose job it was to keep the human world safe from any number of unknowable horrors. And here was Egon, with his glasses and sweater vests, discussing the end of the world and dangerous nuclear equipment the same way we might discuss a computer we just built. I watched Egon go about his business and I felt like I could accomplish basically the same things, if I tried.
Part of why I get so oddly personal about Ghostbusters is probably because of how oddly personal that movie was for me. My mom showed it to me at what was in hindsight a suspiciously young age. She would later tell me it was so that I was never afraid of the dark or anything. It worked, and it had the added side-effect of me as a kid not only not being afraid of the Boogeyman or anything, but knowing that you could totally kick his ass if he started shit. Plenty of movies have people overcoming their fears, but not as many movies feature people chasing down those fears and obliterating them with lasers. I was afraid of the usual crap as a kid; falling off my bike, drowning in the toilet, voodoo. The same stuff any kid is afraid of. Ghosts, though? I wanted so bad to see one, so I could either befriend it like Slimer or trap it in a small metal box in my basement for all eternity. I would watch dubious late-90s webcam feeds trying to find ghosts in strangers’ houses (bonus points to anyone who can tell me what that website was called because I need to archive it IMMEDIATELY), I would spend way too much time in basements and attics trying to experience those ‘feelings of dread’ Egon warned you about in their commercial. All I wanted to do as a kid was meet a ghost and teach it not to slime a guy with a positron collider, even if mine was hollow blue plastic.
It also fell into that rare collection of movies that everyone in my family liked, and I mean everyone. My dad preferred cool dad stuff like From Russia With Love and Terminator 2, with the occasional gross-out comedy. My mom preferred funnier stuff that maybe had a tender moment or two near the end. My little sister wouldn’t watch anything without dinosaurs and/or cute animals, except when she’d grab her Generation 2 Bumblebee and watch the Transformers movie with me. But when it was my turn to pick a movie, it would be either of the two Ghostbusters and nobody complained. Or, if they did, we couldn’t hear them over the other three saying dialog at the TV. A lot of my earliest memories of my family when we were all still together and happy revolve around either video games or Ghostbusters stuff, and I feel like that’s really helped hammer it into my brain. Heck, even my grandpa liked it, and I don’t remember him watching a lot of things without John Wayne, or that didn’t say Die Hard on the label.
Maybe it was also how accessible the idea of ghostbusting was. I was born at just the right time for Ghostbusters to be sort of on its way out as a kid’s fad, supplanted by Power Rangers and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, so the toys were always pretty cheap. And Kenner was absolutely genius how they went about it, producing just as many role-playing toys as they did action figures, correctly assuming kids would want to be their own Ghostbuster just as much (if not more so) as they’d actually want a plastic Ray to drive their little Ecto-1. I had nearly every one of the role-playing toys thanks to my dad working close to the nearest-at-the-time Toys R Us (Hall Road and Schoenerr, if anyone is curious), and I would wear them with pride.
And the ones I couldn’t bought, I built. Or, rather, had my grandpa build. Bear with me a second: in the totally-amazing Sega Genesis Ghostbusters game, there was an old man in Doc Brown future-shades that sold you new weapons. At one point, the designers make the decision to have this character be the grandpa of whichever Ghostbuster you’re playing as, which blew my mind as a kid. So I enlisted my real-life grandpa to build me a bunch of wooden-and-metal replicas of the various lasers the guys would use in the cartoon, or the game, or whatever. Later on, when ‘propping’ (as the fanbase called the act of making your own Ghostbusters movie prop replicas) came into fashion, that very same grandpa helped me put together a proton pack. It’s undergone some revisions and modifications since then, but it’s the same proton pack deep down that he made for me and in a dumb way it helps me remember him. My grandpa could be a whole blog post on his own, but this one is nostalgic and morbid enough for right now. Rest assured, he was a hell of a guy, and the fact he was so excited to help me look like a Ghostbuster is a pretty strong testament to that.
I’m gonna cut myself off here before it gets weirder, or more off-topic. The point is, Harold Ramis is 50% responsible for the second-most important thing of my childhood (the first being Transformers, and that’s a tug-of-war that continues to this day) and Ghostbusters as a concept has been a big part of my life. Heck, the first friend I ever made in my life was as a result of him wearing a kid-sized Ghostbusters jumpsuit the first day he came to my house to play Super Mario Bros. 3, and I’m still friends with that dude.
And the hell of it all is? I never told Mr. Ramis ‘thank you’. I had always sort of half-planned on sending him and Dan Akroyd some kind of super-lame “thanks for all the years of magic, guys!” fanmail, but I figured there was no way to express that without being a weirdo. There still isn’t and part of me is glad I never did, but I just kind of wish I’d been able to thank him for making such a big part of my life.
I guess I could now. Thank you, Mr. Ramis. You gave this sad little four-eyes something to shoot for when he was growing up, even if that something was “save the world from everlasting darkness”.
My next post will be way more cheerful and less personal, I promise. I just needed to do it now while it was still on my mind.