Wilford Brimley, actor who appeared in Cocoon before becoming Quaker Oats pitch man, dies at 85


Brimley is seen above speaking at a gala honoring Harrison Ford in Universal City, California, in September 2011

Wilford Brimley, the longtime character actor who appeared in such hit films as Cocoon, The Firm, The Natural and The China Syndrome but is best known as the pitch man for Quaker Oats food products, has died. He was 85.

Brimley passed away at his home in his native Utah, TMZ reported.

The news site said that Brimley was on dialysis while being treated in an intensive care unit after his health deteriorated in the final days of his life.

‘Wilford Brimley was a man you could trust,’ his manager, Lynda Bensky, said. 

‘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.’ 

Brimley is seen above speaking at a gala honoring Harrison Ford in Universal City, California, in September 2011

Brimley is seen above speaking at a gala honoring Harrison Ford in Universal City, California, in September 2011

Wilford Brimley (far left), Hume Cronyn (center), and Don Ameche (right) are seen above in the film Cocoon, the 1985 sci-fi comedy drama directed by Ron Howard

Wilford Brimley (far left), Hume Cronyn (center), and Don Ameche (right) are seen above in the film Cocoon, the 1985 sci-fi comedy drama directed by Ron Howard

‘He was a wonderful man, a joy to be around, and his dry sense of humor and iconic voice left an ever lasting impression on every person he met,’ Brimley’s talent agent, Dominic Mancini, told The Hollywood Reporter. 

‘I was lucky to call him a friend. To know Wilford, was to love Wilford. 

‘He had an amazing career, and sliced through the screen with his dry wit, stoic stature, and powerful conveyance. 

‘His unique blend of unexpected comedy and indelible storytelling will always remain unmatched.’ 

Brimley was also known for his public advocacy of diabetes education.

He devoted efforts to raising awareness of the disease after he was diagnosed with diabetes in 1979. 

Brimley is survived by his wife, Beverly, and their three children.

In 1956, Brimley married his first wife, Lynne Bagley, with whom he had four sons.

Brimley and Lynne were married until she died in June 2000.

In October 2007, Brimley married Beverly Berry. 

A rep close to the family told TMZ that Brimley’s favorite quote was one that he found on a blacksmith’s sign.

It read: ‘There is nothing made, sold, or done that can’t be made, sold, or done cheaper. 

‘If price is your only concern, please do business with my competitor.’

Brimley appeared alongside Tom Cruise in the 1993 thriller The Firm

Brimley appeared alongside Tom Cruise in the 1993 thriller The Firm

In 1981, Brimley portrayed Assistant US Attorney James A. Wells in the Sydney Pollack-directed thriller Absence of Malice, starring Paul Newman and Sally Field

In 1981, Brimley portrayed Assistant US Attorney James A. Wells in the Sydney Pollack-directed thriller Absence of Malice, starring Paul Newman and Sally Field

Brimley is seen far right alongside Richard Farnsworth (center) and Robert Redford in the 1984 baseball classic The Natural

Brimley is seen far right alongside Richard Farnsworth (center) and Robert Redford in the 1984 baseball classic The Natural

In 1986 Brimley played a grandfather who cared for his departed son's family on the NBC series Our House. Brimley is pictured above with stars Shannen Doherty (top left); Chad Allen (top right); Deidre Hall (second row right); and Keri Houlihan (bottom left)

In 1986 Brimley played a grandfather who cared for his departed son’s family on the NBC series Our House. Brimley is pictured above with stars Shannen Doherty (top left); Chad Allen (top right); Deidre Hall (second row right); and Keri Houlihan (bottom left)

Anthony Wilford Brimley was born in Salt Lake City on September 27, 1934. He dropped out of high school and enlisted in the United States Marine Corps.

During his military service, Brimley spent three years in the Aleutian Islands.

After re-entering civilian life, Brimley worked odd jobs before he embarked on an acting career. 

He worked as a blacksmith, a rodeo rider, a Hollywood extra, and a bodyguard for business magnate Howard Hughes before tasting success as an actor. 

Years before his role in the 1984 hit The Natural, Brimley became good friends with his eventual co-star, Robert Duvall.

Duvall is credited with inspiring Brimley to pursue an acting career.

‘I met him on one of those horse opera TV deals; I can’t remember what the name of it was,’ Brimley recalled in 2014. 

‘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.’ 

The two men would also appear alongside one another in the 1983 film Tender Mercies, for which Duvall won the Academy Award for best actor.

Brimley, his co-star, played his best friend the movie about a drunken, washed up country singer. 

At the start of his career, Brimley made several appearances as an extra in several Western films, including How the West Was Won, Kung Fu, and The Oregon Trail.

His big break came in the mid-1970s, when he was cast in a recurring role in the hit television drama The Waltons. 

In 1979, he received his first film credit with an appearance on The China Syndrome. 

Brimley played Ted Spindler, a friend of plant shift supervisor Jack Godell, who was portrayed by Jack Lemmon. 

The Salt Lake City native was so humble that he never anticipated getting the chance to work with a Hollywood icon. 

‘First time I saw Jack Lemmon, it was in his office,’ Brimley was quoted as saying by The Hollywood Reporter. 

‘I wasn’t thinking about working with him, I wanted his autograph.’ 

Brimley is survived by his wife Beverly (seen right alongside her husband in 2009) and their three children

Brimley is survived by his wife Beverly (seen right alongside her husband in 2009) and their three children

In 1981, Brimley portrayed Assistant US Attorney James A. Wells in the Sydney Pollack-directed thriller Absence of Malice, starring Paul Newman and Sally Field.

Pollack had Brimley in two of his other films. In 1979, he cast Brimley in The Electric Horseman.

The famed director would later cast Brimley, who usually played likable characters, as the bad guy head of security at a crooked law firm in the 1993 hit The Firm, starring Tom Cruise.

Brimley made several other appearances in 70s and 80s cult classics like  Cocoon, The Natural, The Thing, Hard Target, and over 70 other films.

He also made cameos on hit television series like Walker, Texas Ranger and Seinfeld. 

But Brimley was perhaps best known for appearing in commercials for Quaker Oats food products in the 1980s and 1990s.

He also appeared in ads for Liberty Medical, a company that specializes in diabetes testing supplies.

Brimley was diagnosed with diabetes in 1979. Since then, he worked to educate Americans about the disease.

For his efforts to raise awareness of diabetes, he was given a lifetime service award by the American Diabetes Association in 2008. 

In recent years, Brimley’s pitchwork for Liberty Mutual had turned him into an internet sensation for his drawn out pronunciation of diabetes as ‘diabeetus.’ 

He owned the pronunciation in a tweet that drew hundreds of thousands of likes earlier this year. 

Among his most recent acting credits include the 2009 film Did You Hear About the Morgans?, starring Sarah Jessica Parker and Hugh Grant. 


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