Kevin O'Connell, Oscar's Biggest Loser, Finally Wins on 21st Try

The Best Sound Mixing category doesn’t typically get a lot of ink at the Academy Awards, but something truly historic unfolded when the 2017 winner was announced Sunday night. Kevin O’Connell, a soundman on Mel Gibson’s World War II drama Hacksaw Ridge, held the Oscar record for most nominations without a win, going winless an astounding 20 times over three decades. His first nomination came in 1984 for Terms of Endearment.

Then, around 9:32 p.m. ET Sunday, O’Connell finally won. It was his 21st attempt.

“Thank you so much! I can’t even tell you what this means to me,” an exuberant O’Connell, who shared the awards with fellow sound mixers Andy Wright, Robert Mackenzie, and Peter Grace, said as he stepped to the stage to a hearty ovation.

The 59-year-old turned emotional in thanking his late mother, Skippy O’Connell, who got him his first job in the industry 39 years ago. “And when I asked her how I could thank her, she told me, ‘You can work hard. You can work really hard, and someday, you can win yourself an Oscar, and you can stand on the stage, and you can think me in front of the whole world.’ Mom, I know you’re looking down on me tonight, so thank you.”

O’Connell, a frequent collaborator of both Gibson and director Michael Bay, was previously nominated for Endearment, Dune, Silverado, Top Gun, Black Rain, Days of Thunder, A Few Good Men, Crimson Tide, Twister, The Rock, Con Air, The Mask of Zorro, Armageddon, The Patriot, Pearl Harbor, Spider-Man, Spider-Man 2, Memoirs of a Geisha, Apocalypto, and Transformers.

Hacksaw Ridge was his first Academy Award nomination in nine years. And though O’Connell has become somewhat of a legend among hardcore Oscar geeks, he wasn’t expected to win Sunday. Most pundits, including yours truly, were picking the night’s frontrunner, La La Land, to take Best Sound Mixing, given the Academy’s propensity to honor musicals in the category.

The title of “Oscar’s Biggest Loser” now belongs to O’Connell’s fellow sound mixer Greg P. Russell. The 16-time nominee was actually up for his 17th chance this year for Bay’s 13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi, but was disqualified Saturday for a “violation of Academy campaign regulations.” (His three collaborators on the film, however, remained on the ballot.)

O’Connell, however, must be feeling a sense of relief tonight.

“I don’t pay much attention to that stuff anymore,” O’Connell told NPR this month when discussing his infamous ranks in Oscar lore. “I almost feel like this is like a rebirth for me at this point, you know?”

Let us be the first to say: Happy birthday, Mr. O’Connell.

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