David Lee 1938-2008

Academy Award-winning sound mixer and recordist David Lee died in Panama City, Panama on Oct. 16, following a sudden illness. He was 70.

In addition to a 2002 Oscar for best sound on the Toronto-shot Chicago (shared with Michael Minkler and Dominick Tavella), Lee won a BAFTA for the same film as well as an Emmy for the TV movie Unnatural Causes (1986), a Canadian Film Award for the tax-shelter classic The Silent Partner (1978) and was nominated for seven other awards. He was also involved in development of the Dolby SR system for sound recordists.

‘David Lee was always a larger-than-life character with a larger-than-life heart,’ recalls Don Carmody, who worked with Lee on various projects over some 30 years, including Chicago, which Carmody coproduced. ‘When we were shooting Chicago inside a damp, drafty warehouse, David installed these big baffles all over the place, making the playback acoustics respond as if we were on a soundstage.’

‘Queen Latifah [who was Oscar-nominated for her role] said that the sound environment created on the set of Chicago was key to her performance,’ says Sarah Prince, Lee’s agent. ‘David was thrilled when all the sound elements came together and he saw the smiles.’

Born in Scotland, Lee began his training with the BBC working in documentary, ‘but he chose to make Canada his home,’ says Prince. ‘He grew a beard, donned a huge elk coat and fought his way through to make feature films.’

Besides his professional credits, which also include sound mixing X-Men, David Cronenberg’s Crash, The Santa Clause and Strange Brew, Lee was an active member of IATSE Local 873 in Toronto.

‘He was a good advocate for all of us,’ says fellow mixer and recordist and IATSE member Peter Shewchuk. Lee also taught literacy in community colleges and lectured at the International Film School in Havana.

Says Prince: ‘David was fiercely loyal to friends and colleagues in an often cutthroat business, and he will be sorely missed.’