Wilford Brimley, Curmudgeonly Actor Known for 'Cocoon' and 'The Natural,' Dies at 85

The former blacksmith, rodeo rider and Howard Hughes bodyguard also starred in 'The China Syndrome,' 'Absence of Malice' and 'The Firm.'

8/2/2020 6:56:00 AM

Wilford Brimley, the actor with the walrus mustache whose down-home geniality seen in such films as 'Cocoon,' 'The Natural' and 'Absence of Malice' endeared him to moviegoers, has died. He was 85.

The former blacksmith, rodeo rider and Howard Hughes bodyguard also starred in 'The China Syndrome,' 'Absence of Malice' and 'The Firm.'

endeared him to moviegoers, has died. He was 85.The Salt Lake City native, who also stood out as the plant foreman who becomes a confidant of Jack Lemmon's character inThe China Syndrome(1979), died on Saturday morning in Utah, his manager Lynda Bensky confirmed to

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The Hollywood Reporter. Brimley had been on dialysis and had other medical issues and was in the ICU in St. George, Utah ahead of his death. He had lived since 2004 on a ranch in Greybull, Wyo.Bensky shared in a statement toTHR, "Wilford Brimley was a man you could trust. He said what he meant and he meant what he said. He had a tough exterior and a tender heart. I’m sad that I will no longer get to hear my friend's wonderful stories. He was one of a kind."

On television, Brimley starred in the 1986-88 NBC family dramaOur Houseas a retired widower who, after the death of his son, takes in his daughter-in-law (Deidre Hall) and her three kids (the oldest was Shannen Doherty).Earlier, he had a recurring role on the legendary CBS family drama

The Waltonsas the soft-spoken Walton's Mountain resident Horace Brimley.With Brimley — a blacksmith, rodeo rider, Hollywood extra and bodyguard for Howard Hughes before he made it as an actor — what you saw was what you got. A straight-talking, plain and portly fellow who didn't much like fast-talkers or the fast life, he usually played a blue-collar or folksy kind of guy who didn't hesitate to let you know what was on his mind.

Brimley's stock rose in Sydney Pollack'sAbsence of Malice(1981), in which he turned in a smoldering performance as an assistant U.S. attorney general in the Paul Newman drama. Pollack, who had employed Brimley for 1979'sThe Electric Horseman

, later cast the actor against type as a sinister security chief in 1983'sThe Firm.Brimley was back as his world-weary self as New York Knights manager Pop Fisher in Barry Levinson'sThe Natural(1984), where he worked alongside Robert Duvall, who years earlier had influenced his decision to pursue acting.

The two had also co-starred inTender Mercies(1983), for which Duvall won the best actor Oscar for playing an alcoholic, broken-down country singer. Brimley, solid as usual, played his old friend.InCocoon(1985), directed by Ron Howard, Brimley portrayed Ben Luckett, one of the residents of the Sunny Shores retirement home whose health miraculously improves after a dip in the pool next door.

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Brimley never seemed far away from his fans, regularly popping up in commercials for Quaker Oats oatmeal or to tout the importance of diabetes testing (he himself was a diabetic).Anthony Wilford Brimley was born on Sept. 27, 1934, and moved with his family to Santa Monica at age 6. During high school, he enlisted in the U.S. Marine Corps and was stationed for three years in the Aleutian Islands during the Korean War.

After the service, Brimley worked at odd jobs, including shoeing horses for the stables that furnished animals for TV and movie Westerns. He also was a blacksmith, wrangler, rodeo rider and a bodyguard for a reclusive millionaire.“He was a good guy,” he said of Hughes in a 2014 interview. He noted that the former movie mogul preferred to hire members of the Church of Latter-day Saints, as Brimley was, to serve as his aides.

In 1960, Brimley left for Idaho and bought a small horse ranch. That venture wasn't successful, and he returned to California a few years later and was hired as an extra. At the time, there was a demand for folks who could ride horses, and he worked on such shows as

GunsmokeBonanza."We used to saddle up, and they'd give us a breechcloth and Indian wig, rub some body makeup all over us, and we'd be Indians fleeing over the hills from the soldiers," Brimley once said. "Then we'd change into soldier uniforms and go back and chase ourselves over the same roads."

He developed a lasting friendship with Duvall, who encouraged him to develop his acting skills. "I met him on one of those horse opera TV deals; I can't remember what the name of it was," he recalled. "I was fascinated with what he was able to do as an actor. I'd never seen anything like it. I announced to the world that I was an actor. Then I didn't work for about eight years."

Brimley eventually got his SAG card and landed his first speaking role, on the CBS WesternLancer.He was one of the original members of the Los Angeles Actors' Theatre, a group started by Ralph Waite, and that gave Brimley experience in front of a live audience. He also landed roles in the 1971 film

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Lawman, starring Burt Lancaster, and on Waite'sThe Waltons.The curmudgeonly Brimley found TV frustrating. "I asked the producer if he had anything special in mind for the character I played. He said, 'No.' So I told him, 'Write him out.' I won't be back,' " and he left for Utah.

He never was a fan of Hollywood: "Too many people, too congested and too fast," he said.In 1977, Brimley stopped off in L.A. to see some friends while he was hauling horses from Denver and was asked to interview for a part inThe China Syndrome

, the drama about a catastrophe at a nuclear power plant that starred Lemmon, Jane Fonda and Michael Douglas."First time I saw Jack Lemmon, it was in his office," Brimley said. "I wasn't thinking about working with him, I wanted his autograph." He landed the part of Ted Spindler, the plant foreman.

That turn led to other movies roles, including three with another famous Utahan, Robert Redford — Read more: Hollywood Reporter »

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Great film great cast Newman one of the best Wilford Brimley has looked/been 85 since i first saw him in a 'Diabeetus' commercial back in like the 90's....... Like wtf type of insulin was that man shooting up Loved, Loved, Loved his gravelly voice. ethanjsacks 85 is a good go. Well done Wilford. Thank you for always bringing it. Have fun. 💖💖💖💖💖

Great actor I pray he knew the Lord Loved so many of the films he appeared in ❤ robertpatrickT2 😢 Looks young for 85... They're forgetting The China Syndrome. 😥😥😥 He was one of the few character actors of the modern time who was as deserving as the classic era character actors He always seemed ageless to me since he's looked pretty the same throughout his life. It's almost as if he was born an old man. I'm going to miss that gruff charm and folksy attitude. RIP WilfordBrimley

R.I.P RIP 🙏🏻🙏🏻🌹 Rest Easy Wilfred. You will be missed dearly. Loves 😇 Rip🙏🏻🙏🏻 I always admired how much he deeply cared to help Diabetes patients and the full trust and faith of the testing supplies from Liberty Medical. KathyRaven85 😞 darhar981 I loved him.... Rest In Peace, Wilford Brimley 😞🌹

Awe I liked him he’s with Jesus and his family he will be missed 😔 RIP Pops The Thing. Coronavirus. And The Firm! .Blue steel. Cat couldn't scratch it. tvmoviedan Loved him in Cocoon as well in the Quaker Oats commercials! RIPWilfordBrimley RIP Wilford Brimley BarbaraMcMahon8 🙏🙏🙏🙏🙏u ...tc He was an excellent actor. He could play the villain or the sweet Granddad. RIP sir.

Its the job of a General to by God get things done! I thought he was 85 for cocoon 40 yrs ago. DelroyAtkinson Loved him in TheThingMovie (obvs original 1982), thinking 'noooo dont put that pencil near your mouth!!' Fans of TheThing will know what I mean. Rest In Peace Aww, my adopted grandpa! Loved him! RIP. ❤️

It seemed like he was 85 for the last 40 years RIP R.I.P Wilford Brimley 🙏 Rest In Peace amongst the stars Mr. Brimley No disrespect but I thought he was 85 twenty years ago 😳 Thank you for the memories Wilford you were a class above your contemporaries - Safe passage & enjoy the next part of the journey. RIPWilfordBrimley

Brimley was 85 for thirty years, an incredible achievement He was the same age as JLO is now when he played a senior citizen in Cocoon. RIP Mr. Brimley... Love the movie 'Cocoon'. RIP lovely. I only know this dude from the diabeetus memes. RIP legend. Gen'Xer's be like the Guy from 'Cocoon' died?...Gen Y be like, The Diabetes guy from 'Family Guy' died? Thank you SethMacFarlane Gen Z be like, The Quaker Oats guy is Real?

WilfordBrimley ‘check ya Diabeetus or I’ll kick your ass.’ I lost count of how many time I rewound this VHS, he will always be one of the heros of ENDOR! RIP Will Was it diabeetus? He’ll always be Blair to me. “It aint Fuchs”. R. I. P. Great face and voice I think of WhoseRyanStiles and colinmochrie whenever I think of Wilford Brimley.

Loved him, may he RIP. Loved Wilford Brimley RIP The China Syndrome Who’s going to play John Bolton if they make his book into a movie now? He was brilliant. So many wonderful character roles. RIP Wilford. May he RIP A serious yet also lovable actor. Cocoon was quite revelatory in its day and improved oldie status. Nerds welcomed the 1982 remake of The Thing as brainy, articulate horror, which featured music by another recently late great Ennio Morricone.

So many great performances!! Condolenses to his family!! RIPMrBrimley 😔😢 Thank you for the kind way of reporting this - opposed to “Breaking: Wilford Brimley is dead.” I guess nytimes doesn’t particularly care about human life. R.I.P. Wilford Brimley! An actor with a really great screen presence. lookner Wasn’t he Gus in that show with Corky? I forget the name of the show.

lookner May he rest in peace. lookner Thought this already happened. This sucks. Mr. Brimley was full of life, even at 85, he was sharp to the end. Rip Mr. Brimley, a great talent. wow, i thought he was around 85 in 'cocoon' [don't make me do the math] lookner Loved seeing Wilford in movies..the strange thing is, he always appeared old. I don't know if this was just because he was playing older characters, his voice or some combo of the two, but he seems to have been old, forever. RIP

Loved Wilford in The Electric Horseman. Nice write-up, but The Firm was not 1983, it was 1993 Sad news. Really heartbreaking. Brimley was one of my two sentimental favorite actors. The other was Richard Farnsworth. Both were in a favorite of mine 'The Natural'. Sadly Farnsworth, suffering terminal cancer, committed suicide the night he lost the Oscar to Kevin Spacey.

lookner Starting off on the wrong foot August... 😥 Dia-BEETUS is dead y'all, DIA-BEETUS DEAD! Zigmanfreud His work dispelling myths surrounding Grape Nuts was trampled by AIDS advocacy. Shame it was so I’ll timed. Lost a long battle against diabeetus. He was wonderful in Cocoon. I also loved him in Country with Jessica Lange and Sam Shepard. I think he was in China Syndrome.

Zigmanfreud 🙏🏼♥️ 💔 RIP Mr Brimley 💔 A true original. Spectacular character actor. 😞 misskatsuragi Hard to believe he was only 85. I thought he was much older. Rest in peace😞 tbh honest I thought he was dead already. I loved Bartles & James. 💔 robertpatrickT2 Man we lose another great. I always enjoyed watching Mr. Brimley.

RIP JaybeeStewee I was just talking about his character in Cocoon yesterday. RIP 😔 robertpatrickT2 I liked the evil Wilford in The Firm. RIP Wilford, you will be missed. WesReynolds1 Do you like golf, Mr. Kramer? RIP Godspeed, sir. AKILPRODUCTIONS diabetus luluincanada 'Well, it's my job. And I'm pretty damn serious about it.' RIP

RIP Wilford Brimley God dammit One of my favorite actors. RIP Wilford Brimley. ripWilfordBrimley My favorite Wilford Brimley moment came while seeing The Firm when it opened in theaters. Upon his delivery of a somewhat caustic line, someone in the audience gasped 'Wilford Brimley said the F word!!' The entire theater roared. He will be missed. 😢 ripWilfordBrimley

And Ewoks: The Battle for Endor. Wilford Brimley , face of Quaker Oats and Diabetes Campaigns , dead at 85. Don’t forget the John Carpenter classic, “The Thing”. RIP What he did this time?

Wilford Brimley Dies: ‘Cocoon’, ‘The Natural’ Actor Was 85Wilford Brimley, the actor known for his work in Cocoon, The Natural and The Thing, has died. He was 85. Brimley, whose additional credits include The Electric Horseman and The Hotel New Hampshire,… So sad.. RIP 😢 Sad Rest in peace

Wilford Brimley, Face of Quaker Oats & Diabetes Campaigns, Dead at 85Brimley was a staple in the health and food ad space for years. Oh man wilford passed away. Wow. I remember when he played in movies

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