Sound pioneer Ray Dolby dies at 80

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(CNN) — Ray Dolby, the American inventor who changed the way people listen to sound in their homes, on their phones and in cinemas, died Thursday in San Francisco.

Dolby was 80.

The founder of Dolby Laboratories had been suffering from Alzheimer’s disease for a number of years, and in July was diagnosed with acute leukemia.

“Today we lost a friend, mentor and true visionary,” said Kevin Yeaman, the company’s president and CEO.

Dolby founded the company in London in 1965, and in the following decades it built on his pioneering work in surround sound and noise reduction, which removed the annoying “hiss” from audio recordings.

Dolby holds more than 50 U.S. patents for many state-of-the-art technologies. Now based in San Francisco, the company has earned dozens of industry plaudits including 19 Academy and 13 Emmy Awards.

Dolby’s work earned so much admiration from the film industry that last year the Hollywood landmark known as the “home of the Academy Awards” was renamed Dolby Theatre. After each annual star-studded ceremony, the world’s leading actors and actresses toast the occasion in the Ray Dolby Ballroom.

“With Dolby Laboratories, his passion for sound led to innovations that have changed the way we listen to music and movies for nearly 50 years,” said Neil Portnow, President and CEO of the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences.

“His technologies have become an essential part of the creative process for recording artists and filmmakers, ensuring his remarkable legacy for generations to come.”

While his work earned him fame and fortune, Dolby considered himself an adventurer at heart.

“I wanted the experience of traveling to many parts of the world. Inventions were part of my life, but they didn’t overtake everything that I was doing,” he said in quotes released by the company.

His wife of 47 years, Dagmar, described him as “generous, patient, intellectually honest” and a fantastic role model for their two sons, Tom and David.

“I think he was the happiest when we would be on the boat, and the waves got really high and the weather forecast was really bad — that was all the more challenge for him,” she said.

Tom Dolby, a filmmaker and novelist, said: “Though he was an engineer at heart, my father’s achievements in technology grew out of a love of music and the arts. He brought his appreciation of the artistic process to all of his work in film and audio recording.”

Dolby was born in Portland, Oregon, in 1933 and started his career at Ampex Corp., where he led the development of the electronic aspects of the Ampex videotape recording system.

He earned his first degree in electrical engineering at Stanford University, before moving to Cambridge in the UK to study physics. While there, he became the first American to be named a fellow at Pembroke College.

After graduating, Dolby moved to India for a two-year stint as a United Nations adviser before returning to London to set up his company. In 2004, Dolby was inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame in the U.S. and the Royal Academy of Engineers in the UK.

By Hilary Whiteman

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