Ivan Reitman, ‘Animal House’ Producer and ‘Ghostbusters’ Director, Dies at 75

Ivan Reitman, the influential filmmaker and producer behind beloved comedies from Animal House to Ghostbusters, has died. He was 75.

Reitman died peacefully in his sleep Saturday night at his home in Montecito, California, his family told The Associated Press.

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“Our family is grieving the unexpected loss of a husband, father and grandfather who taught us to always seek the magic in life,” children Jason Reitman, Catherine Reitman and Caroline Reitman said in 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.”

Said Tom Rothman, chairman and CEO of Sony Pictures Motion Picture Group: “Tonight, the lady with the torch weeps, as do all of us at Columbia, and film lovers around the world. Ivan Reitman was an inseparable part of this studio’s legacy, but more than that he was a friend. A great talent and an even finer man; he will be dearly missed. We send his family all our condolences.”

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 and spawned a veritable franchise, including spinoffs, television shows and a new movie, Ghostbusters: Afterlife, which opened in 2021 that his son, filmmaker Jason Reitman, directed.

Ivan Reitman told The Hollywood Reporter in November that Ghostbusters: Afterlife was an emotional project for him, especially seeing his three original leads back in uniform. “It was a very personal and sometimes tear-inducing experience,” he told THR. “The day that all three of them showed up for the first time and were just checking stuff out — it was just extraordinary; just feeling the vibe, not just for me, but I felt it in the crew and cast. I felt it everywhere.”

Jason said at the time that he made the film just as much for fans as for his father. And took great pride in working alongside his father for the latest chapter in the franchise. Both men expressed some level of frustration that the film was pushed multiple times due to the pandemic, as they were eager for fans to see it, but understood that safety was paramount.

In an interview with Screenrant last year, Jason elaborated on the experience of working with his father on the film. “It’s impossible to explain how it feels to be next to not only the world’s foremost authority on Ghostbusters but also one of the great storytellers of our time, who I can turn to and trust while making the movie,” he said.

Before son Jason came on board the franchise with his own take, Ivan Reitman was originally supposed to direct his third Ghostbusters film but pulled out after the death of original star Harold Ramis and given Bill Murray’s reluctance to get on board at the time. He wound up as a producer on that film, which ultimately became 2016’s female-led Ghostbusters and was directed by Paul Feig.

“I’m in absolute shock,” Feig tweeted Sunday night. “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. Thank you for everything, Ivan. Truly.”

As for Afterlife, Ivan Reitman told Screenrant he was crying after hearing Jason’s idea to continue the franchise. “I started weeping way back, as soon as Jason told me the story,” he said in the same interview. “The very first time that he explained that he thought he had a Ghostbusters idea that he was considering doing, he told me the story, and I could feel the emotionality of it and how it was such the right idea to continue this story that I was fortunate enough to direct in ’84.”

Afterlife earned $128.8 million domestically and received a positive response. While Sony has not announced a sequel, the door was left open for more.

While Reitman collaborated with Murray multiple times, their first meeting didn’t go so well, Reitman said in a 2016 interview with PBS. Reitman said their first encounter was at a rehearsal of National Lampoon with Murray, John Belushi, Gilda Radner, Ramis and Brian Doyle-Murray. Reitman noted that group had been working together for some time.

“I made the mistake of saying, ‘Wouldn’t it be better if …’ and made some suggestion,” Reitman said. “They all stopped and looked at me. And Bill, the bravest of the group, walks to me. He wraps my scarf around my neck in a really dangerous way and says, ‘Hey, thanks for coming, see you later,’ and he ushered me right out of the room.”

Reitman was looking forward to directing again and had plans to this year helm Triplets, a sequel to his Twins, the 1988 comedy that starred Arnold Schwarzenegger and Danny DeVito as unlikely twins. He was set to direct the project, which was expected to film in the first part of this year in Boston and see Tracy Morgan join the franchise as a long-lost sibling. It would have been Reitman’s first directorial effort since the 2014 Kevin Costner sports drama Draft Day.

Among other notable films Reitman directed are Kindergarten Cop, Dave, Junior and Six Days, Seven Nights. He also produced Beethoven, Old School, EuroTrip and many others, including several for Jason. He was nominated for a best picture Oscar alongside Jason and Daniel Dubiecki for Up in the Air, which Jason directed, in 2010.

Reitman also was nominated for an Emmy for best made for TV movie in 1996, as part of the producing team for The Late Shift, which dramatized the late night rivalry between David Letterman and Jay Leno.

He was born in 1946 in Komarmo, Czechoslovakia, 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 was only 4. They traveled in the nailed-down hold of a barge headed for Vienna.

The Reitmans joined a relative in Toronto, where Reitman displayed his showbiz inclinations: starting a puppet theater, entertaining at summer camps, and playing coffee houses with a folk music group. He studied music and drama at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario, and began making movie shorts.

Ryan Parker, Aaron Couch and Hilary Lewis contributed to this report.

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