Ivan Reitman, the filmmaking and producing powerhouse behind such irreverent cultural touchstones as Ghostbusters and Animal House, has died, his family said Sunday. He was 75.
Reitman died peacefully in his sleep at his home in California on Saturday night, according to a joint statement given by his family to the Associated Press. No cause of death was specified.
“Our family is grieving the unexpected loss of a husband, father, and grandfather who taught us to always seek the magic in life,” said Jason Reitman, Catherine Reitman, and Caroline Reitman, the director’s three adult children.
“We take comfort that his work as a filmmaker brought laughter and happiness to countless others around the world,” the family added. “While we mourn privately, we hope those who knew him through his films will remember him always.”
Having cut his teeth by producing then-fledgling horror auteur David Cronenberg’s early work, Reitman burst onto the scene first as the producer of the madcap 1978 frat comedy National Lampoon’s Animal House.
The following year, Reitman took the first step in what would go on to be one of his most celebrated artistic partnerships, directing an unknown Bill Murray in summer camp flick Meatballs.
From there, it was just a hop, skip, and a jump into the comedic stuff of legend. As a director, Reitman hit a number of cinematic home runs throughout the 1980s and 1990s, including 1981’s Stripes (another Murray team-up), 1988’s Twins, 1990’s Kindergarten Cop, and 1994’s Junior.
But it was with 1984’s Ghostbusters that Reitman was able to cement his status as a Hollywood giant. The critically acclaimed blockbuster has pulled in a $242 million domestic lifetime gross and spawned a series of sequels, including last year’s Ghostbusters: Afterlife.
Directed by his son, Jason, Afterlife served as a kind of spiritual torch-passing. Reitman served as producer to his son’s vision, and was reportedly moved to tears while watching a cut of the film.
“My father hasn’t been leaving the house much because of COVID,” Jason told Empire magazine in January last year. “But he took a test, put on a mask and drove down to the Sony lot to watch the movie with the studio. And after, he cried, and he said, ‘I’m so proud to be your father.’ And it was one of the great moments of my life.”
Born in Czechoslovakia in 1946, Reitman was the child of an Auschwitz survivor and an underground resistance fighter. The family immigrated to Toronto to escape communist oppression when he was 4 years old.
“I remember flashes of scenes,” Reitman told the AP of the journey 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.”
Nearly six decades later, Reitman would be made an Officer of the Order of Canada “for his contributions as a director and producer, and for his promotion of the Canadian film and television industries.”
As a producer, Reitman hit a hot streak with the Beethoven film series, about the cuddly Saint Bernard, and 1996’s Space Jam.
In 2016, Reitman told The Daily Beast in an interview that he still considered Ghostbusters to be the strongest of his Murray quartet, calling it “the purest and most complex.”
In Ghostbusters, “the story was the alpha,” Reitman said. “It was important and you couldn’t just make up whatever was in your head. Attention had to be paid, and attention had to be paid to the storytelling.”