Actor-comedian Rick Moranis parlayed his turn on the groundbreaking Canadian sketch comedy series "SCTV" (Global/CBC/NBC/Superchannel, 1976-1984) into a decade-long string of starring roles in popular Hollywood comedies, including "Ghostbusters" (1984), "Honey, I Shrunk the Kids" (1989) and "The Flintstones" (1994). Bespectacled and unassuming in appearance, Moranis was a natural for socially awkward characters whose strength and charisma were visible only after serious challenges ensued, though his most popular role was that of the supernaturally dense Bob McKenzie, one half of the beer-swilling McKenzie Brothers, who debuted on "SCTV" and later earned their own feature, "Strange Brew" (1983). After the death of his wife in 1991, Moranis retired from acting, but emerged in 2005 as an unlikely country singer on the Grammy-nominated "Agorophobic Cowboy." His "SCTV" heritage, along with his best films, made Moranis among the best-regarded television and movie comics of the 1980s and 1990s.
Born Frederick Allan Moranis on April 18, 1953 in Toronto, Canada, Rick Moranis began his entertainment career as a part-time radio engineer while still attending Sir Sandford Fleming Secondary School. He later graduated to on-air personality at three Toronto radio stations, where he worked under the name "Rick Allen." After transitioning to stand-up comedy, he gained his first onscreen experience as part of the sketch comedy series "90 Minutes Live" (CBC, 1976), which also featured future "SCTV" actor-writers John Candy and Valri Bromfield. In 1980, Moranis was brought aboard "SCTV" by his friend, actor-writer Dave Thomas, to replace exiting cast members Harold Ramis, John Candy and Catherine O'Hara. The only member of the show's revolving cast to not originate from the Second City improv troupe, Moranis nevertheless fit perfectly with the show's anarchic, pop culture-skewering humor. Like many of his cast mates, Moranis proved to be an expert celebrity impersonator, cutting down the likes of Neil Young, Woody Allen, Ringo Starr, Dick Cavett, Brent Musberger and Elton John to size. He also created a number of memorable original characters, including smooth VJ Gerry Todd, Slavic pop star Linsk Minyk and atrocious amateur comic Skip Bittman. His most popular contribution to the show was Bob McKenzie, one-half of the beer-swilling, addle-pated McKenzie Brothers, which he created and largely improvised with Thomas, who played brother Doug.
The McKenzie Brothers were Moranis and Thomas' response to a request by the CBC television network, which picked up "SCTV" for broadcast in 1980, that two minutes of exclusively Canadian content be added to each episode. Since the series was taped in Canada and featured a largely Canadian cast and crew, the duo found the request ridiculous, and took it upon themselves to fill those two minutes with a sketch that would incorporate every stereotype of Canadian culture possible. Videotaped at the close of a shooting day in front of a single camera, Moranis and Thomas would don winter gear, adopt thick Canadian accents and lingo ("Take off, eh?"), and riff on all manner of ridiculous subjects while consuming real beer and bacon. To their amazement, Bob and Doug McKenzie became the most popular segment of the series, both in Canada and the United States, when it was picked up by NBC for a late-night, 90-minute broadcast, with the Peacock Network specifically requesting that the McKenzies be a part of every episode. The news was not well-received by several of Moranis' cast mates, most notably Candy and Joe Flaherty, who accused Thomas of abusing his status as head writer by stuffing the scripts with McKenzie bits. In reality, neither Moranis nor Thomas was particularly fond of the characters; both found them stultifying and stupid, and resented the fact that they were forced to continually create more sketches. However, neither was blind to the fact that their popularity might translate into careers beyond "SCTV."
In 1981, the pair recorded The Great White North, a comedy LP as Bob and Doug McKenzie. Its debut single, "Take Off," which featured Geddy Lee, singer for the Canadian powerhouse rock group Rush - and a former elementary school classmate of Moranis - contributing guest vocals, broke the Top 20 on the Billboard singles chart, and helped to sell over a million copies of the album. By 1982, Moranis and Thomas had left "SCTV" and, after seeing Candy, Flaherty and Eugene Levy land their own Hollywood feature, "Going Berserk" (1983), they pitched a Bob and Doug movie to MGM. The result was "Strange Brew" (1983), a truly offbeat comedy based loosely on Shakespeare's "Hamlet," with the McKenzies becoming involved in family politics at a sinister brewery after attempting to earn free beer by placing a dead mouse in a bottle. Co-directed by Moranis and Thomas, the film's broad humor easily won back its paltry $5 million budget at the box office, and the picture remained a cult favorite on home video and DVD for decades. A "Strange Brew" soundtrack album, featuring new comedy bits interspersed with dialogue from the movie, was poorly received by listeners, which was something of a relief for the duo, who, after shooting a pair of television commercials as the McKenzies for Pizza Hut in 1984, went their separate ways in pursuit of solo careers. Moranis soon settled into largely comic character roles in American features.
After a dismal beginning as a cutthroat music manager in Walter Hill's fantasy-drama "Streets of Fire" (1984), he gained his first stateside blockbuster by replacing John Candy in "Ghostbusters" (1984) as Louis Tully, a hapless, nebbish CPA who becomes possessed by an ancient demon called Vinz Clortho, a.k.a. "The Keymaster," after parapsychologists Bill Murray, Dan Aykroyd and Harold Ramis begin investigating supernatural phenomenon in the apartment of Tully's neighbor and crush, Dana Barrett (Sigourney Weaver). A blockbuster hit in the summer of 1984 and a genuine pop culture phenomenon, it led to Moranis becoming one of the most popular comic actors of that era. His Tullyisms would become some of the more quoted lines in the film, including "OK, who brought the dog?," "Nice doggy. Cute little pooch. Maybe I've got a Milk-Bone," "I am the Keymaster" and "Who does your taxes?" After guest turns in forgettable comedies like "Brewster's Millions" (1985) and "Head Office" (1985), Moranis surprised many by proving a capable lead as well as a fine singer in "Little Shop of Horrors" (1985), director Frank Oz's high-energy adaptation of the Broadway musical about a shy floral store employee who discovers a talkative and very hungry plant. Though not a major hit, it established Moranis as an actor who could carry a film, and led to leads in several more high-profile comedies, including Mel Brooks' "Spaceballs" (1987), a broad parody of the "Star Wars" (1977) saga, with Moranis as Dark Helmet, a comic take on Darth Vader as a scrawny, petulant weirdo in oversized headgear, and Ron Howard's "Parenthood" (1989) as an over-ambitious father.
Following his return as Louis Tully in the less successful and less inspired "Ghostbusters II" (1989), Moranis' biggest hit as a lead was Disney's "Honey, I Shrunk the Kids" (1989), a gentle family comedy that paid tribute to 1950s-era science fiction films in its story of a kindly but absent-minded inventor who accidentally reduces his children to ¼ of an inch with his new electromagnetic device. Opening in second place behind the juggernaut that was "Batman" (1989), the film led to a 1992 sequel, "Honey, I Bliew Up the Kid," which reversed the original film's premise by enlarging Moranis' two-year-old to the size of a skyscraper, as well as a 3-D attraction at Epcot Center called "Honey, I Shrunk the Audience" (1994). A second feature sequel, "Honey, We Shrunk Ourselves" (1997), with Moranis reprising his role for the fourth and final time, was released directly to home video.
Between "Honey" assignments, Moranis continued to appear in other comedies, including "My Blue Heaven" (1990), with Steve Martin as a glib mobster inducted into the Witness Protection Program by Moranis' uptight agent, and the live-action "Flintstones" (1994), where Moranis provided a note-perfect take on Mel Blanc's voice for Barney Rubble. But the period was also fraught with intense personal tragedy for the actor; his wife, Anne, died in 1991 from liver cancer, and Moranis found it increasingly difficult to rationalize leaving home for long periods of time to shoot movies. He also became disenchanted with the material he was receiving, including low-wattage comedies like "Little Giants" (1994) and "Big Bully" (1996). All of this impacted his decision in 1997 to largely retire from acting to concentrate on raising his children.
Moranis kept a low profile in the decade that followed, restricting his appearances to commercials and the occasional animated project. Ironically, most of these were as Bob McKenzie; first, in a series of television and radio spots for the Molson Brewing Company and the Mr. Lube automotive service chain, and later in the Disney animated feature "Brother Bear" (2003), which featured Moranis and Thomas as a pair of Canadian moose who sounded suspiciously like Bob and Doug. In 2007, he and Thomas reunited for their last live-action turn as the brothers in "Bob and Doug McKenzie's Two-Four Anniversary" (CBC, 2007), which paid tribute to the characters' history and longevity. No less of a figure than former Canadian Prime Minister Paul Martin appeared in the special, which underscored the McKenzie's transformation from cultural in-joke to national icons. However, Moranis declined to voice Bob for "Bob & Doug" (Global, 2009), an animated series about the brothers created by and starring Thomas. Dave Coulier stepped in to voice Bob, but Moranis remained onboard as an executive producer.
In lieu of an acting career, Moranis wrote humorous editorial pieces for the New York Times, among other publications, and worked on a collection of comic songs that were eventually released as The Agorophobic Cowboy (2006), a satirical country album in the vein of Roger Miller or Kinky Friedman that earned a 2006 Grammy for Best Comedy Album. Two years later, he was mentioned as part of the cast for the long-gestating "Ghostbusters 3," but eventually declined to reprise his character, citing his retirement.
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Began career as a part-time radio engineer in Toronto, Ontario while still in high school; supplied station's deejays with funny one-liners which led to his own radio show which he hosted and wrote (date approximate)
Moved to Los Angeles (for five weeks)
Recorded first comedy album, "Great White North" (with Dave Thomas)
Featured on NBC TV pilot, "Twilight Theatre II"
Film acting, co-directing and co-writing (with Dave Thomas) debut in "Strange Brew"
Had small, but memorable role as nerdy, possessed Louis in the blockbuster hit "Ghostbusters"
Starred as nebbish Seymour in the black comedy/musical film version of "Little Shop of Horrors"; first movie with Steve Martin
Played Darth Vader-like villain in Mel Brooks' "Star Wars" spoof "Spaceballs"
First hit film, "Honey, I Shrunk the Kids"
Reprised role in "Ghostbusters II"
Cast in the superb ensemble comedy "Parenthood"
Co-starred with Martin in "My Blue Heaven"
Played an uncredited cameo role as a gravedigger in the Martin's comedy, "LA Story"
Starred in the kids football flick "Little Giants"
Was the perfect live-action Barney Rubble in "The Flintstones", starring John Goodman and Rosie O'Donnell
Acted in the high-school revenge comedy "Big Bully"
Appeared in "Honey, We Shrunk Ourselves", the second sequel to "Honey, I Shrunk the Kids"