John Refoua, Editor on ‘Avatar’ Films, Dies at 58

John Refoua, the Oscar-nominated editor who worked on Avatar and Avatar: The Way of Water, has died. He was 58.

Refoua died from complications from a rare bile duct cancer called cholangiocarcinoma, according to his wife, Serena Bell Refoua, who shared the news of his death in a Facebook post. He was diagnosed with cancer in early 2022.

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“Despite the pain and complexities of this aggressive disease, he faced it with courage and grit,” Bell Refoua wrote. “He continued to work and edit on James Cameron’s Avatar 3 right up to his final weeks. His life’s trajectory was quite unique and anything he touched, he made better.”

An experienced and widely respected editor, Refoua was a longtime collaborator of Cameron, working with the legendary filmmaker on the Avatar franchise, the Fox sci-fi series Dark Angel and the Titanic documentary, Ghosts of the Abyss. Refoua, along with Cameron and Stephen E. Rivkin were nominated for best achievement in film editing at the 2010 Oscars for their joint work on Avatar.

John Refoua, James Cameron and Stephen Rivkin
(L-R) John Refoua, James Cameron and Stephen Rivkin pose at the 60th Annual ACE Eddie Awards at the Beverly Hilton Hotel on Feb. 14, 2010.

In a 2010 Cine Montage interview, Refoua said Cameron called him in early 2007 to help him for a few weeks on Avatar. The editor ended up working on the groundbreaking project for over two years. A huge technical challenge, the editing team on Avatar had to feel their way through the process and find new ways of working. “The focus from all of us was: How do we do this movie in a way that makes sense? What is the best way to do things? There were no set procedures, so we were discovering things as we went along,” Refoua told Cine Montage.

Cameron, Refoua and Rivkin would reunite for 2022’s Avatar: The Way of Water, with the late David Brenner also coming aboard as a fourth editor on yet another massive technically challenging project. Refoua’s work will also appear in the upcoming Avatar 3.

A favorite of Antoine Fuqua, Refoua worked on four films in a row with the director, including the action-adventure movie Olympus Has Fallen (2013), the Denzel Washington-led thriller The Equalizer (2014), the brutal boxing drama Southpaw (2015) and Sony’s big budget remake of The Magnificent Seven (2016).

Born in New York in 1964, Refoua began his editing career on television in the early 1990s. He worked on various shows editing episodes of Law & Order, Ally McBeal and Touched By an Angel before having a more extended run working on Fox’s crime drama New York Undercover.

From 2000 to 2002, Refoua edited or co-edited 16 episodes of the Cameron-created series Dark Angel which starred Jessica Alba. His other TV credits include multiple episodes of Reno 911! and CSI: Miami.

Outside his work for Cameron and Fuqua, Refoua edited the films Reno 911!: Miami (2007), Balls of Fury (2007), 21 & Over (2013), Geostorm (2017) and Transformers: The Last Knight (2017).

Survivors include his wife Serena and granddaughter Avery Sophia.

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