Richard Portman, 'Star Wars,' 'The Godfather' and 'Nashville' Sound Man, Dies at 82

Richard Portman - Publicity-H 2017
Courtesy Tallahassee Democrat

He received 11 Oscar noms during his brilliant career, winning for 'The Deer Hunter,' and taught at Florida State, where Barry Jenkins of 'Moonlight' was one of his students.

Richard Portman, the accomplished sound man who collected 11 Oscar nominations and won for his work on Michael Cimino's The Deer Hunter, has died. He was 82.

Portman, whose prolific list of credits includes Carnal Knowledge (1971), The Godfather (1972), Paper Moon (1973), Star Wars (1977) and Body Heat (1981), died Saturday at his home in Tallahassee, Fla., his daughter, Jennifer Portman, confirmed to The Hollywood Reporter. He had recently suffered a broken hip from a fall.

A perfectionist and rerecording mixing specialist, Porter received a pair of Oscar sound nominations in 1973 for his work on Francis Ford Coppola's The Godfather and Michael Ritchie's The Candidate, then picked up two more the following year, for Peter Bogdanovich's Paper Moon and Mike Nichols' The Day of the Dolphin.

He landed his first Oscar nom for Kotch (1971), directed by Jack Lemmon, and also was nominated for Mel Brooks' Young Frankenstein (1974), Herbert Ross' Funny Lady (1975), Michael Apted's Coal Miner's Daughter (1980) and Mark Rydell's On Golden Pond (1981) and The River (1984).

He and Robert Altman helped develop the overlapping, natural style of dialogue that the famed director was known for and that was evident in California Split (1974), Nashville (1975), 3 Women (1977), A Wedding (1978) and Quintet (1979).

Porter also worked on such notable movies as Little Big Man (1970), Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory (1971), Harold and Maude (1971), The Getaway (1972), The Last Detail (1973), Silent Movie (1976), Starting Over (1979), Splash (1984), L.A. Story (1991), The Hand That Rocks the Cradle (1992), The Pelican Brief (1993) and Gloria (1999).

In 1995, Portman retired from Hollywood and joined the faculty at Florida State University, helping to launch its film school as a professor of sound. "If nothing else, Florida State will have the only film school in the nation where directors learn sound from the start," he told the Tallahassee Democrat in 1998.

One of his students was film school graduate Barry Jenkins, the Oscar-nominated writer and director of the best picture contender Moonlight.

On Twitter, Jenkins called Portman a "fantastic educator, introduced me to [Walter] Murch's "Blink of an Eye" & taught me importance of sound, may he RIP."

"In action, Richard was truly an acrobat of dexterity in front any mixing board," Mamie McCall, who was his teacher's assistant/trainee for three years, said in an email to THR. "Watching him work like this mad scientist, a symphony conductor but in high speed, was so mesmerizing but intimidating I silently realized I'd never be so amazing as him, that I went in to VFX as camera instead! Now I understand, no one was like him or ever would be."

A native of Los Angeles, Portman was the son of Clem Portman, an Oscar-nominated sound man who worked on such features as King Kong (1933), Citizen Kane (1941), It’s a Wonderful Life (1946) and She Wore a Yellow Ribbon (1949) as well as on dozens of episodes of the 1960s ABC series The Fugitive.

After serving with the U.S. Marines, Portman landed a gig, with help from his dad, as a trainee at Columbia Pictures in 1957. Two years later, he joined the Samuel Goldwyn studio, and he spent more than a decade there.

Portman served as the sound director at Altman's Lion's Gate production company in the 1970s and is said to be the first person in Hollywood to mix an entire feature by himself. He received a lifetime achievement award from the Cinema Audio Society in 1998.

The Tallahassee Democrat (Portman's daughter is the news editor there) has a great story on how Portman and his dad may have influenced the naming of a Star Wars character. Read it here:

"Richard Portman changed the nature of sound recording in Hollywood," director Taylor Hackford said in a 2012 Florida State video that celebrated Portman's career. The two worked together on Dolores Claiborne (1995).