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Oscar-winning sound mixer Bill Varney dies

LOS ANGELES -- Bill Varney, an Academy Award-winning sound mixer whose final film credit was a "director's edition" of Orson Welles' "Touch of Evil" that was released on the film's 40th anniversary, has died. He was 77.

Varney died Saturday of congestive heart failure in Fairhope, Ala., the Cinema Audio Society announced. He was the organization's former president.

He won back-to-back Oscars for sound on "The Empire Strikes Back" (1980) and "Raiders of the Lost Ark" (1981).

In 1998, Varney was vice president of sound operations for Universal Pictures when he joined a team that re-edited the 1958 film noir classic "Touch of Evil" based on a 58-page memo that director Welles wrote the year before the movie was released.

Welles scholars consider "Touch of Evil" among his greatest works, but the filmmaker was removed from the picture during post-production and never allowed to cut the film the way he wanted. Welles died in 1985.

Prompted by film historians, Universal found the memo in the late 1990s that Welles had written. It detailed about 50 specific changes that he wanted to make to the film that involved continuity of cuts, music cues and improving the sound mix.

Varney led the sound restoration efforts on "Touch of Evil," relying on "digital processing to bring the 40-year-old soundtracks to a new level of clarity," Walter Murch, who was a sound mixer and editor on the film, wrote in 1998 in The New York Times.

Harold William Varney was born Jan. 22, 1934, in Beverly, Mass.

One of his first film projects, in the 1950s, featured folk singer Joan Baez in a movie produced at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where her father taught physics. In 1961, Varney moved to California to help produce educational films for Encyclopedia Britannica.

By 1972 he had begun working as a sound mixer in film and television, and over the next quarter-century contributed to 85 projects.

He received Oscar nominations for "Dune" (1984) and "Back to the Future" (1985) and an Emmy Award nomination for the television series "Roots" (1977).

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