Kevin P. O’Connell, who charmed an audience of millions with his heartfelt remembrance of his mother on Sunday upon winning the Academy Award for sound mixing, is a native Long Islander.
The 59-year-old, who broke his record-setting string of 20 Oscar nominations without a win, was raised in California and now resides in the Los Angeles suburb of Sherman Oaks. Since 2001 he has been married to Heather O’Connell, who accompanied him to the 89th Academy Awards ceremony at the Dolby Theatre in Hollywood. They have two sons, Casey and Cooper.
On Sunday, when he and his colleagues Peter Grace, Robert Mackenzie and Andy Wright won the Oscar for their work on Mel Gibson’s war movie “Hacksaw Ridge,” O’Connell recalled how his mother had helped him obtain his first job in his future career. “And when I asked her how I could thank her, she told me, ‘You can work hard . . . and someday, you can win yourself an Oscar, and you can stand on the stage and you can thank me in front of the whole world.’ Mom, I know you’re looking down on me tonight, so thank you.”
His mother, Skippy O’Connell, was a secretary in the sound department at 20th Century Fox. After an aborted stint at age 18 as a projectionist at the studio, Kevin O’Connell joined the Los Angeles County Fire Department for a year. Following a particularly rough wildfire a year later, his distraught mother urged him to give the movie industry another try. He got a job at Samuel Goldwyn Studios, later called the Warner Hollywood Studios, and soon became a recording technician.
“I was fortunate enough to work on some very cool films with some extraordinary folks. Films like ‘Grease,’ ‘Animal House,’ ‘The Empire Strikes Back’ and ‘Raiders of the Lost Ark,’ ” he told the Australian Screen Sound Guild’s website in November. “With films like that, it was easy to get hooked.” He moved up to sound mixer, the professional who curates recorded sounds — anything from footsteps to explosions — and adds them to films, which generally do not use ambient sound other than dialog.
His first credit as a sound mixer starting with the 1982 Steve Martin film “Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid.”
His more than 200 credits include 21 movies for which he has been Oscar-nominated, from “Terms of Endearment” to “Top Gun”, “Spider-Man” and “Spider-Man 2” and “Transformers,” the most film recent before “Hacksaw Ridge.” He also shared a 1989 Emmy Award for sound mixing of the miniseries “Lonesome Dove.” The day after his Oscar win, he was back at work, doing sound mix for his next movie.
O’Connell’s mother died on the night of the 2007 Academy Awards. “She was in the hospital and insisted I go to the ceremony because she would never want me not to go,” Kevin O’Connell told NBC News last week, adding, “I was holding her in my arms when she died.”