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Ivan Reitman, 'Animal House,' 'Ghostbusters' filmmaker, dies at 75

Working with the likes of John Belushi and Bill Murray, Reitman helped to bring the freethinking comedy of the counterculture to the big screen.

"Ghostbusters" director Ivan Reitman, the moviemaker behind a canon of film that took young baby boomers from fringe comedy clubs and cast them in blockbusters with a surreal view of grownup life, has died.

He was 75.

A representative for Ivan Reitman's son, writer-producer-director Jason Reitman, referred NBC to a statement the younger Reitman and his sisters released to The Associated Press.

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

The family told the AP that he had died peacefully in his sleep Saturday night at his home in Montecito, California.

Reitman first found widespread success with his production of "National Lampoon’s Animal House," a movie about 1960s college antics that somehow corralled the talent of the late John Belushi.

His films were among the first that brought the new, freethinking comedic imagination of the counterculture and TV's "Saturday Night Live" to the big screen.

Ivan Reitman Receives a Star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame
Ivan Reitman receives his star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame on May 5, 1997.Ron Galella / Getty Images file

Reitman developed his love for show business and comedy amid fertile ground in 1970s Toronto, home to SNL creator Lorne Michaels, the influential "Second City" comedy troupe, and future ghost-buster Dan Aykroyd.

"I've had the good fortune of finding fresh comedic voices or actors that went on to greater fame, or became famous as a result of movies I was involved with them in," he said in an interview published by Canadian Business in 2006.

"People like John Belushi and Bill Murray were in their first movies with me," he told the Toronto-based publication that started as a newsletter of Canada's Chamber of Commerce.

He directed Murray in his breakout, “Meatballs," and then again in “Stripes." The two would work again on another hit, 1984’s “Ghostbusters.”

The supernatural comedy starred Murray, Dan Aykroyd, Harold Ramis, Ernie Hudson, Sigourney Weaver and Rick Moranis. It grossed nearly $300 million worldwide, earned two Oscar nominations, and spawned a franchise.

“Ghostbusters: Afterlife,” directed by the producer's son, Jason Reitman, opened in theaters last year.

Ivan Reitman has been credited as a producer on several films directed by his son, as well as on “Beethoven,” “Old School” and “EuroTrip."

Among films he directed: “Twins,” “Kindergarten Cop,” “Dave,” “Junior” and “Six Days, Seven Nights.”

Ivan Reitman
Ivan Reitman on the set of 'Animal House' in Studio City, Calif., on Nov. 2, 1979. Paul Harris / Getty Images file

His IMDB credits run well into the future as a result of preproduction. In that 2006 interview he said he was proud of his latest production work at the time: "My Super Ex-Girlfriend."

He said it was not a big financial success. "But I'm quite proud of it. I thought it was very effective," Reitman said.

Ivan Reitman was born in Komarmo, Czechoslovakia, in 1946 where his father owned the country’s biggest vinegar factory. The Reitmans escaped a communist surge when Ivan Reitman was only 4 by traveling in the hold of a barge headed for Vienna.

The Reitmans ultimately landed in Toronto, where Ivan entertained at summer camps and played coffee houses with a folk music group. He made film shorts as a student at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario.

Ivan Reitman was based in California's Santa Barbara County, with his wife of more than 40 years, the former actor Genevieve Robert, the mother of his three children.

In a 2020 interview with the Montecito Journal he said he moved to Beverly Hills in 1979, following the success of "Animal House," but ended up in Santa Barbara County roughly 27 years ago after a building a home there.

He co-owned the Montecito Picture Company with partner Tom Pollock, the former chairman of Universal Pictures, who died in 2020.

In 2015, he told "TODAY" he was proud to see "Ghostbusters" expand as a franchise for new generations.

"My primary focus will be to build the 'Ghostbusters' into the universe it always promised it might become," he said. "The original film is beloved, as is the cast, and we hope to create films we will continue to love."