Oscar award-winning sound mixer turned Wolverine sets his sights on medical school as a 50-year-old freshman.
It’s 6:16 a.m., and David Parker a freshman studying biology is waiting at the Trax station in Salt Lake City for his ride to the Frontrunner. He will take that train to UVU and back by 3 p.m. to make it to his full-time job working nights at the Ramada. He gets to campus by 8 a.m. and stays up into the early hours of the morning studying. His eyes may be sleepy, but they also convey the sort of kindness that you would hope to see from your doctor.
A six-year-old’s dream
“When I was about six years old, I put a band-aid on a friend of mine, and he said you know what you should be a doctor someday, and that sparked an interest to last a lifetime,” said Parker.
Though he dreamt of being a doctor from a young age, after graduating from high school, he had to make a living and followed the career path he had already started working as a helper on movie sets on the weekends.
A different path
“I asked a friend of mine who worked in the film business when I was very young if there was any way I could pick up some work as a helper on a movie set. … He said yes, and I went on the weekend just trying to pick up some extra cash,” said Parker. “Well, one day turned into several days which turned into meeting Willie Burton who took me under his wing.”
As the first African American man to be accepted into the International Sound Technicians Union and the nominee for seven Academy Awards, Willie D. Burton is an icon who shares the mantle of being the Academy’s most-honored African Americans in the film industry with none other than Quincy Jones.
Describing his relationship with Burton, David Parker said he was “not only a mentor, but he has also been a father figure,” said Parker. “He not only taught me how to do sound but also how to become a man.”
Parker went on to get married and have two daughters. He has had an active lifestyle and was passionate about rock climbing, surfing, snowboarding, tennis, and golf, “but that was before the drugs,” said Parker.
In 2006 David Parker, Willie Burton, and the rest of their team won an Oscar for Best Sound Mixing for the film Dreamgirls featuring actors Jaime Foxx, Beyonce Knowles, Eddie Murphy, and Danny Glover.
Parker describes it as the high point of his career, but the glamour and fame weren’t all they were made out to be. He drove a Range Rover and lived in Hollywood Hills, but partying with A-list celebrities and dabbling in cocaine turned into dependency and addiction.
“I was at the top of the world, but I wasn’t happy,” said Parker. “The addiction spiraled, and I started taking whatever jobs I could get and investing that into more cocaine. It was a very dark period in my life. I took my drug addiction to the point of losing everything, my family – everything.”
He hit rock bottom when, after a relapse, he found himself experiencing homelessness and was taken in by a woman in the industry who was also a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints in Atlanta.
During his road to recovery, he had discovered a spiritual practice and faith community in the LDS Church after being brought to BYUtv to do the sound for a show.
“I got a paycheck and flew back to Utah because I knew that was the only way I could save my life,” said Parker. He soon found a recovery center and checked himself in to get treatment.
It was there that he got the life-changing treatment and therapy that he needed to turn a new page in his life.
A 50-year-old’s dream
“My therapist helped me see that my job was the worst thing for me. You see it every day in Hollywood. They publicize it and make it glamourous so that you will buy tickets, but it literally takes your soul,” said Parker.
When he realized that he could never go back to his job, he called his bishop, agent, and Willie Burton to deliver the news.
“My bishop asked me, ‘If you could do anything in the world what would it be,’” said Parker. “’I always dreamed of being a doctor, but what would I be a 50-year-old freshman?’ and he just stared at me and said, ‘Yeah, you would be,’” said Parker. “So today I study until 1 AM because I am a 50-year-old freshman.”
Photos courtesy of David Parker