Although you might not immediately remember his name, you've definitely seen Rick Moranis in at least one classic comedy film.
Looking back over his filmography, Moranis' unique sense of comedic timing and physical comedy was evident in classics such as Ghostbusters, Spaceballs, the remake of Little Shop of Horrors and, of course, Honey I Shrunk The Kids. Moranis' career began in his native Canada, where he was a successful radio disc jockey working under the name of Rick Allan. In 1980, Moranis was contacted by a close friend of his, Dave Thomas, to try out for an upcoming comedy TV show that he was putting together. Second City Television may not be familiar to audiences on this side of the world, but its alumni definitely are. Bill Murray, John Candy, Dan Akyroyd, Mike Myers, Will Ferrell, Tina Fey, Stephen Colbert and countless other comedy legends all spent time as part of the Second City comedy troupe.
One of Moranis' sketches from Second City Television
It was on the set of Second City that Moranis met fellow comedy icon John Candy. The two developed a strong friendship, one that would endure for many years until Candy's eventual death. More on that later.
Moranis joined up with Thomas for the sketch comedy show. Pretty soon, it was a hit. Hollywood would eventually come knocking. His first film, Strange Brew, is considered a cult comedy gem. Based on characters he and Dave Thomas developed on SCTV, it would launch a platform for his unique blend of comedy with audiences across the States and the world. In 1984, Moranis joined the cast of a little-known high-concept comedy that was in development by fellow Canadian Ivan Reitman. Moranis' friend, John Candy, was initially cast in the role of Louis Tully, an uptight businessman who shared an apartment building with Sigourney Weaver's character. Candy read the story treatment and turned it down. With Candy out of the way, the role was rewritten more in line with Moranis' presence. The actor would later say that it was "the greatest thing [he] ever read."
Ghostbusters was a box-office smash and Moranis' performance as a supporting character was an instant hit with fans. Moranis would go through several well-known comedy films in the '80s, such as Brewster's Millions, Club Paradise and the Mel Brooks-directed Star Wars spoof, Spaceballs. Moranis would play evil villain, Dark Helmet, an obvious parody of Darth Vader.
In 1986, Moranis would marry Ann Belsky, a costume designer. The marriage would produce two children, but sadly end in tragedy. Moranis' career was going from strength to strength by the late '80s. In 1989, he starred in the family adventure film Honey, I Shrunk The Kids. It was made on a budget of $18 million and would go on to gross over $200,000,000. The sequel, Honey, I Blew Up The Kid, was less successful but still reminded us that Moranis was an exceptional comedy talent. However, during the production of the film, Moranis' wife was diagnosed with liver cancer.
By 1991, she had succumbed to her illness. Moranis was left to raise his children by himself. His final live-action roles included Little Giants, Splitting Heirs and Big Bully - almost all of them were critically panned and flopped commercially. Moranis became more and more disenfranchised by the Hollywood system. The death of his close friend, John Candy, was undoubtedly a contributing factor. Many believed, including director John Hughes, that the Hollywood system had worked Candy into an early grave. By 1997, Moranis had finished with live-action films entirely.
Rick Moranis in Ghostbusters (1984)
Speaking on his decision in an interview, Moranis stated that there "was nothing unusual about what happened or what I did, I think the reason that people were intrigued by the decisions I was making and sometimes seem to have almost admiration for it had less to do with the fact that I was doing what I was doing and more to do with what they thought I was walking away from, as if what I was walking away from had far greater value than anything else that one might have."
Moranis' decision to leave Hollywood behind couldn't have been easy, but for him, it was the right thing to do. He wanted his children to have a happy home-life, much like he had in Canada. And for him, that was more important than making films. But did he miss it?
"I missed the people and I missed the very refreshing nature of doing something radically different every day. Raising kids and being a stay-at-home parent, especially a single parent, is, there’s a lot of sameness. It’s a very different kind of life than being on the set with Aykroyd and Murray and Steve Martin. So I missed that kind of thing, but I found lots of joy and lots of rewards in other places. It was just all part of an adjustment."
More recently, Moranis has returned to work on some projects, but nothing at the level of where he once was. He voiced a role in Disney's Brother Bear and released two comedy albums, The Agoraphobic Cowboy and My Mother's Brisket and Other Love Songs. In interviews, Moranis is notoriously guarded about his personal life and rarely speaks of his wife or children, simply preferring to leave that aspect of his life out of the public view.
Interest in Moranis' career was sparked again when news of the all-female reboot of Ghostbusters was announced. In a short interview, Moranis was relatively cool about reprising his role again. "Somebody [Dan Aykroyd]'s associated with called me and I said, ‘I wouldn’t not do it, but it’s got to be good.’ You know, I’m not interested in doing anything I’ve already done, and I thought the second one was a disappointment. But I guess I’m interested in where that guy is now."
Whether he returns for the new Ghostbusters or not remains a mystery, but one thing is for certain - Moranis made the right decision to leave Hollywood.