When Faber College was about to expel the misfit Deltas of "Animal House," the rambunctious character Bluto Blutarski rallied them, but it was writer Harold Ramis who provided Bluto's stirring words:

"What? Over? Did you say over? Nothing is over until we decide it is! Was it over when the Germans bombed Pearl Harbor? Hell, no! It ain't over now, because when the going gets tough, the tough get going. Who's with me? Let's go! Come on!"

For a few comic beats, the downcast frat boys react with utter silence — exquisite moments that made one of Ramis' funniest scenes even funnier.

Ramis, a grocer's son who decided he wasn't brave enough to be a professional comic but would be fine "lobbing in great lines here and there," died Monday at his Chicago-area home of autoimmune inflammatory vasculitis, a rare disease that involves swelling of the blood vessels, his wife, Erica Mann Ramis, said.

He was 69 and had been battling the illness for four years.

A writer and director whose films grossed well over $1 billion, Ramis worked with and inspired the most successful comic actors in the U.S.

The late John Belushi, who played Bluto in "Animal House," was a friend since the days they performed together in Chicago's Second City improv troupe.

Judd Apatow, who directed "The 40-Year-Old Virgin" in 2005 and "Knocked Up" in 2007, interviewed Ramis for his high school radio station.

"He was the person that I wanted to be when I was growing up," said Apatow, whose latest producing credit is "Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues." "His work is the reason why so many of us got into comedy.… He literally made every single one of our favorite movies."

Ramis had writing credits on such enduring movie comedies as "National Lampoon's Animal House" (1978), "Stripes" (1981) and "Ghostbusters," the 1984 hit in which he co-starred as the geeky, brilliant Egon Spengler, doctor of parapsychology.

Among the films he directed were "Caddyshack" (1980), "National Lampoon's Vacation" (1983), "Groundhog Day" (1983) and "Analyze This" (1999).

Ramis' first films were exuberantly thrown pies in the face of authority — Army drill sergeants, pompous college deans, country club dandies or anyone else who might profit from a comic takedown.

His later films, such as "Stuart Saves His Family" (1995), "Multiplicity" (1996), "Analyze This" and his "Bedazzled" remake (2000), were more introspective, reflecting what he described as his own blend of "existential psychology, Buddhism and progressive Judaism."

Most of them were still hilarious.

"Groundhog Day," in which a cynical TV weatherman seems to be trapped in an endlessly repeating 24 hours in Punxsatawney, Pa., expressed one man's desperate search for meaning, he told NPR's Terry Gross in 2005.

"There is no universal meaning to life that applies now and for always, for each and every person," he said. "Our job — and it's a tough job — is to figure out what it all means and to fulfill a personal destiny that we each figure out for ourselves."

Dan Aykroyd, Ramis' costar in "Ghostbusters," alluded to his old friend's intellectual questing in a statement Monday: "May he now get the answers he was always seeking."

Born in Chicago on Nov. 21, 1944, Harold Allen Ramis graduated from Washington University in St. Louis. He worked seven months in a psychiatric ward and briefly taught at a school in one of Chicago's toughest neighborhoods before plunging into his career in entertainment.

In the mid-1960s, he freelanced arts stories for a Chicago newspaper and later became an editor at Playboy, where he ran the jokes page.

Meanwhile, he started performing at Second City.