July 29, 2011

Bill Varney, Celebrated Sound Mixer

Varney earned a Primetime Emmy nomination for the miniseries Roots and won two Oscars.

Bill Varney, a two-time Academy Award-winning sound mixer for Star Wars: Episode V – The Empire Strikes Back and Raiders of the Lost Ark, died on April 2, 2011, in Fairhope, Alabama, from complications of congestive heart failure. He was 77.

Born Harold William Varney on January 22, 1934 in Beverly, Massachusetts, Varney attended Swampscott High and was a disc jockey at a nearby New Hampshire radio station. After working on an educational film at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, he relocated to Los Angeles in 1961 to help produce educational films for Encyclopedia Britannica. By 1972, he had begun working as a sound mixer for television and film.

In a career spanning 40 years and more than 80 films, Varney began mixing at Producer Sound Services, ultimately moving to Samuel Goldwyn Studios, where he spent 14 years, and to Universal, where he was vice president of sound operations until his retirement in 2001.

His best known television credit was Roots, for which he received an Emmy nomination for Episode 1.

His numerous film credits included Grease, Animal House, The Lord of the Rings, Star Trek: The Motion Picture, Ordinary People, Poltergeist, Starman, DragonHeart and, in his final project, a director’s edition of Orson Welles’ Touch of Evil that was released on the film’s 40th anniversary in 1998. He received two more Academy Award nominations — for Dune in 1984 and Back to the Future a year later.

Varney, who was a pilot and enjoyed boating and building train sets in his spare time, also served as president of the Cinema Audio Society and was a member of the executive committee of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.

He is survived by his wife, Suzanne, and daughter, Lisa.

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