Ivan Reitman Cause of Death: Producer-director Ivan Reitman, whose wildly successful comedies of the ‘70s and ‘80s included the blockbuster spookfest “Ghostbusters,” died in his sleep on Feb. 12, his family confirmed to the Associated Press. He was 75. The cause of death was not released.
“Our family is grieving the unexpected loss of a husband, father, and grandfather who taught us to always seek the magic in life,” his children, director Jason Reitman, Catherine Reitman and Caroline Reitman said via a joint 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.”
Born in Czechoslovakia and raised in Canada (where he first met such young comics as his later stars Dan Aykroyd and Rick Moranis), Reitman made his first major impression as the producer of “National Lampoon’s Animal House” (1978), the madcap, wildly successful frat comedy that introduced “Saturday Night Live” star John Belushi to big-screen audiences.
Known for big, bawdy comedies that caught the spirit of their time, Reitman’s big break came with the raucous, college fraternity sendup “National Lampoon’s Animal House,” which he produced. He directed Bill Murray in his first starring role in “Meatballs” and then again in “Stripes,” but his most significant success came with 1984’s “Ghostbusters.”
Not only did the irreverent supernatural comedy starring Murray, Dan Aykroyd, Harold Ramis, Ernie Hudson, Sigourney Weaver and Rick Moranis gross nearly $300 million worldwide, it earned two Oscar nominations, spawned a veritable franchise, including spinoffs, television shows and a new movie, “Ghostbusters: Afterlife,” that opened this last year. His son, filmmaker Jason Reitman directed.
Among other notable films he directed are “Twins,” “Kindergarten Cop,” “Dave,” “Junior” and 1998’s “Six Days, Seven Nights.” He also produced “Beethoven,” “Old School” and “EuroTrip,” and many others, including several for his son.
He was born in Komarmo, Czechoslovakia, in 1946 where his father owned the country’s biggest vinegar factory. When the communists began imprisoning capitalists after the war, the Reitmans decided to escape, when Ivan Reitman was only 4. They traveled in the nailed-down hold of a barge headed for Vienna.
“I remember flashes of scenes,” Reitman told the AP in
1979. “Later they told me about how they gave me a couple of sleeping pills so I wouldn’t make any noise. I was so knocked out that I slept with my eyes open. My parents were afraid I was dead.”
The Reitmans joined a relative in Toronto, where Ivan displayed his show biz inclinations: starting a puppet theater, entertaining at summer camps, playing coffee houses with a folk music group. He studied music and drama at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario, and began making movie shorts.
With friends and $12,000, Reitman made a nine-day movie, “Cannibal Girls,” which American International agreed to release. He produced on a $500 budget a weekly TV revue, “Greed,” with Dan Aykroyd, and became associated with the Lampoon group in its off-Broadway revue that featured John Belushi, Gilda Radner and Murray. That soon led to “Animal House.”
By the time 1990’s “Kindergarten Cop” came around, Reitman had established himself as the most successful comedy director in history. Though not even being the father of three children could have prepared him for the arduous task of directing 30 children between the ages of 4 and 7 in the Arnold Schwarzenegger comedy.
Reitman slowed down as a director after “Six Days, Seven Nights” — only four films would follow “Evolution,” “My Super Ex-Girlfriend,” “No Strings Attached” and “Draft Day,” from 2014.
But he continued producing and, with “Ghostbusters: Afterlife,” even found himself on the press circuit with his son, providing emotional moments for both with the passing of the baton.
When asked late last year why the 1984 film continued to fascinate, Reitman told the AP that it was hard to define.
“I always had a sort of sincere approach to the comedy,” he said. “I took it seriously even though, it was a horror movie and a comedy, I felt you had to sort of deal with it in a kind of realistic and honest way.”