Influential Sound Mixer Bill Daly Dies at 65

He worked with Dick Wolf, Oliver Stone and Adrian Lyne and developed a movie slate to sync sight and sound for the film that would become the Oscar-winning documentary “When We Were Kings.”

Bill Daly, an accomplished production sound mixer who enjoyed a 40-plus-year career in film and television, has died. He was 65.

Daly died Aug. 23 in his Guadalupe Trail home in Albuquerque, N.M., after suffering a stroke.

Described by his peers as a “sound artist” and a “soundman’s soundman,” Daly worked on such films as Brian De Palma’s Greetings (1968), starring a young Robert De Niro; Hester Street (1975), starring Oscar nominee Carol Kane; Adrian Lyne’s Nine 1/2 Weeks (1986), with Mickey Rourke and Kim Basinger; and two movies for Oliver Stone: JFK (1991), for which he mixed the film’s Dealey Plaza scenes, and Heaven & Earth (1993).

The Bronx native also had a fruitful 16-year working relationship with Dick Wolf, starting with the first two-plus seasons of the writer-producer’s NBC drama Law & Order. He worked on other L&O spinoff projects including Exiled, starring Chris Noth; New York Undercover; and Law & Order: SVU, for which he mixed 160 episodes from 1999-2006.

While serving as a location sound coordinator for the filming of the Muhammad Ali-George Foreman 1974 heavyweight boxing match in Zaire known as “The Rumble in the Jungle,” Daly developed one of the first “smart” time-code movie slates (the devices that signal "action!") that would have a huge impact on the business.

The bout was preceded by a three-day concert featuring the likes of B.B. King and James Brown, and the filmmakers wanted to film the concert and fight with multiple cameras -- but not multiple soundmen -- and to be able to sync all the cameras with the multitrack recordings of the music acts onstage. To do this quickly and efficiently, they needed to visually display the time code for the camera, but there were no portable crystal-controlled clocks at the time.

Daly, though, modified a Heuer executive desk clock that had a crystal control and plasma display to DC power and turned it into the first smart slate. He built a series of the devices and used them in Zaire for what would become When We Were Kings, the 1997 Oscar winner for best documentary.

“That clock was probably the most significant impact I’ve had on the business,” Daly said in a 1998 interview with Filmcrew magazine. Daly also used the slates for a Grateful Dead documentary in 1977.

Based in New York for almost four decades, Daly moved to Albuquerque in 2008 to mix sound on Crash, the Starz series based on the best picture Oscar-winning movie. He worked on 2010’s The Spy Next Door before retiring. 

Daly enlisted in the Navy during the Vietnam War, serving as a nuclear reactor operator candidate, then as an instructor in a pilot program the Navy was running in Morocco to use RF communication over long distances. This sparked his early interest in radio, which would inform his work as a sound editor.

“I’m in the business because I love the art,” he once said. “I like the idea that there is this gathering of eagles for a moment, and my job is to record the sound.”

Survivors include his brothers Michael and John and his brother-in-law Roy.

A memorial service for family and friends is set for 5:30 p.m. Sept. 20 at Nativity Church in Albuquerque. Another service in New York is being planned.