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Ray Dolby, Surround Sound Innovator, Dead at 80

Audio pioneer passed away in his San Francisco home this week

Ray Dolby, a pioneer of noise-reducing and surround sound technology who founded Dolby Laboratories, died in his San Francisco home on Thursday (September 12). He was 80 years old. According to a statement released by the company that bears his name, Dolby suffered with Alzheimer’s disease for several years and was diagnosed with acute leukemia this past July.

“Today we lost a friend, mentor, and true visionary,” said Kevin Yeaman, CEO and President of Dolby Laboratories. “Ray Dolby founded the company based on a commitment to creating value through innovation and an impassioned belief that if you invested in people and gave them the tools for success they would create great things. Ray’s ideals will continue to be a source of inspiration and motivation for us all.”

Dolby’s innovations in sound revolutionized the recording and film industries, allowing for cleaner, crisper audio that drastically reduced tape hiss. The Dolby System became a standard among major labels and movie studios, and the man behind it and other contributions to the audio industry was honored with a number of notable distinctions. Over the course of his life, Dolby earned two Oscars, several Emmys, and a Grammy Award, and held more than 50 U.S. patents. He was also awarded the National Medal of Technology from President Clinton and inducted into the U.S. National Inventors Hall of Fame and the U.K. Royal Academy of Engineers.

Born in Portland, Oregon, in 1933, Dolby received a Ph.D. in physics from Britain’s Cambridge University in 1961 and founded Dolby Labs in 1965. As the New York Times notes, he served as chairman of the company’s board until 2009, and then retired in 2011. In 2012, the Hollywood auditorium that hosts the Academy Awards had its name changed from the Kodak Theatre to the Dolby Theatre.

Dolby is survived by his wife, Dagmar, his sons Tom and David, their spouses, and four grandchildren.