Oscar-Winning Sound Mixer Bill Varney Dies

He won Academy Awards for “Star Wars: Episode V — The Empire Strikes Back” and “Raiders of the Lost Ark.”


Bill Varney, an Oscar-winning sound mixer for Star Wars: Episode V — The Empire Strikes Back and Raiders of the Lost Ark, died April 2 of congestive heart failure in Fairhope, Ala. He was 77.

A veteran of more than 80 feature films, Varney’s sound work also earned him Oscar nominations for Dune (1984) and Back to the Future (1985) and an Emmy nom for 1977 miniseries Roots.

Varney was a past president of the Cinema Audio Society and received CAS’ highest honor, its Career Achievement Award, in 1990.

Varney worked 30 years as a rerecording mixer and joined Universal Pictures as vp sound operations, where he was responsible for the remodeling and upgrading of the studio’s sound facilities. He also spent 14 years at Goldwyn Studios as supervising rerecording mixer.
Varney began his career in radio and television in the early 1950s. His first motion picture was a government-funded project at MIT featuring folk singer Joan Baez, whose father was a professor of physics there. This film caught the eye of some filmmakers, and he soon moved to the West Coast.

Along with fellow Oscar winner Walter Murch, Varney used a 58-page memo from Orson Welles to reconstruct the sound for the 1998 DVD director’s edition rerelease of Touch of Evil.

Varney’s other credits include The Last Waltz (1978), Grease (1978), Ordinary People (1980), Poltergeist (1982), My Favorite Year (1982), Gremlins (1984) and Dragonheart (1996).

“I recall as very young production sound mixer meeting Bill and finding him to be gracious and welcoming to me,” CAS past president Edward Moskowitz said. “He was incredibly supportive in establishing and strengthening the camaraderie among all the mixers in the CAS.”

Survivors include his wife Suzy and daughter Lisa. Arrangements are pending and will be held in Alabama.