How Bill Murray's Altercation on "Groundhog Day" Caused a 20-Year Feud With Director
He didn't make peace with Harold Ramis until the director was on his deathbed.
The comedic partnership between Bill Murray and writer, director, and actor Harold Ramis brought forward a string of hit comedies across the late '70s and '80s, including Caddyshack and Ghostbusters. But despite their success, audiences never again saw them together after 1993's Groundhog Day, an existential comedy about a grumpy weatherman (Murray) reliving the same day over and over again. While many speculated about the split, it wasn't until Ramis' passing in 2014 that his daughter shared what led to their falling out. Read on for details on why the two stopped speaking for more than 20 years and Murray's final visit to a "heartbroken" Ramis.
Ramis met Murray when he was a teenager.
According to Entertainment Weekly, Ramis met a teenage Murray while working with Murray's brother, Brian Doyle-Murray, at The Second City in Chicago in the late '60s. The three went on to collaborate extensively in the years to come, beginning as castmates at the theater before moving on to The National Lampoon Radio Hour show in the early '70s. However, it was Ramis and Murray's big-screen collaborations that had the biggest cultural impact, starting with 1979's Meatballs and continuing with Caddyshack (Ramis' directorial debut), Stripes, and two Ghostbusters movies.
In addition to being creative collaborators and co-stars, the two were such close friends that Murray was even named godfather to Ramis's first child, Violet Ramis Stiel. But the friendship fell apart when she was a teen, as Ramis and Murray paired up for their final film together.
Filming Groundhog Day was tense.
Murray was impressed by the concept for 1993's Groundhog Day, which he called "one of the greatest conceptual scripts I've ever seen" in a 2014 Reddit AMA (per Mental Floss). That excitement died down when it came time to star in his sixth movie with Ramis, who directed. According to a 2012 Entertainment Weekly article, Murray's first marriage (to Margaret Kelly) was unraveling at the time, and the actor was reportedly cranky and difficult to work with.
"Bill had all these obvious resentments toward the production, so it was very hard for a time to communicate with him," Ramis said. "Calls would go unreturned. Production assistants couldn't find him. So someone said, 'Bill, you know, things would be easier if you had a personal assistant. Then we wouldn't have to bother you with all this stuff.'"
The director went on to share how that suggestion led to a decidedly creative tantrum. "And he said, 'Okay.' So he hired a personal assistant who was profoundly deaf, did not have oral speech, spoke only American sign language, which Bill did not speak, nor did anyone else in the production," Ramis recalled. "That's anti-communication, you know? Let's not talk."
A physical altercation ended their relationship for 20 years.
As filming went on, relations grew worse as the two comedians quarreled over creative differences. In her 2018 memoir Ghostbuster's Daughter: Life With My Dad, Stiel recalled how those tensions led to the end of the friendship after Ramis got physical with Murray. "They had a few arguments on set, including one in which my dad uncharacteristically lost his temper, grabbed Bill by the collar, and shoved him up against a wall," she wrote, as quoted in the Daily Mail. "Eventually, Bill just completely shut my dad out… for the next twenty years."
When Stiel railed about her godfather's disappearance, Ramis told her he tried to reach out, but Murray had refused his olive branch. She wrote that the "heartbroken, confused" Ramis never understood exactly why he had been cut out. "Some people hypothesized that Bill may have been resentful of my dad's influence on his career or wondered if my dad had offended or betrayed Bill in some way, but truly, the root of his decision remains a mystery to this day," Ramis' daughter explained.
They reconciled shortly before Ramis' passing.
In those two decades of silence, Ramis was diagnosed with autoimmune inflammatory vasculitis, a rare autoimmune disorder that led to his 2014 death. At the end of his life, he and Murray were able to resolve their differences, according to Stiel, who described the star's unexpected visit.
"In classic Bill fashion, he showed up at the house, unannounced, at 7 a.m., with a police escort and a dozen doughnuts," she recalled in her book. By that point Ramis was unable to speak much, "but they spent a couple hours together, laughed a little, and made their peace."
When Ramis died on Feb. 24 of that year at age 69, Murray offered this brief tribute to Time: "He earned his keep on this planet. God bless him." His relationship with Stiel has likewise been curt, according to her. "I've reached out to Bill a few times since my dad's death but, apart from one brief text message, haven't got a response," Ramis' daughter said.
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