Anthony Wilford Brimley was the American actor and singer who served in the Marines and took on a variety of odd jobs is dead at 85 years. He became an extra for Western films, and in little more than a decade, he had established himself as a character actor in films such as The China Syndrome (1979), The Thing (1982), and The Natural (1984). Wilford Brimley was the long-time face of television advertisements for the Quaker Oats Company. He also promoted diabetes education and appeared in related commercials for Liberty Medical.
Anthony Wilford Brimley was born in Salt Lake City, Utah, on September 27, 1934. His father was a real estate broker. Before his career in acting, he dropped out of high school to join the Marines, serving in the Aleutian Islands for three years. He also worked as a bodyguard for businessman Howard Hughes, as well as a ranch hand, wrangler, and blacksmith. Wilford then began shoeing horses for film and television. At the behest of his close friend and fellow actor, Robert Duvall, he began acting in the 1960s as a riding extra and stunt man in Westerns.
Known as the mustached, Brimley was a familiar face for several roles, often playing characters like his grizzled baseball manager in “The Natural” opposite Robert Redford’s bad-luck phenomenon. He also worked with Redford in “Brubaker” and “The Electric Horseman.”
Brimley’s best-known work was in “Cocoon,” in which he was part of a group of seniors discovering an alien pod that rejuvenates them. The 1985 Ron Howard film won two Oscars, including a supporting actor honor for Don Ameche.
Barbara Hershey, who met Brimley on 1995’s “Last of the Dogmen,” called him “a wonderful man and actor. … He always made me laugh.”
Though never nominated for an Oscar or Emmy Award, Brimley amassed an impressive list of credits. In 1993’s John Grisham adaptation “The Firm,” Brimley starred opposite Tom Cruise as a tough-nosed investigator who deployed ruthless tactics to keep his law firm’s secrets safe.
John Woo, who directed Brimley as Uncle Douvee in 1993’s “Hard Target,” told The Hollywood Reporter in 2018 that it was “the main great thing from the film. I was overjoyed making those scenes and especially working with Wilford Brimley.”
The Utah native spent two decades traveling around the West and working at ranches and race tracks. He drifted into movie work during the 1960s. He forged a friendship with Robert Duvall, who encouraged him to seek more prominent acting roles, according to a biography prepared by Turner Classic Movies.
Brimley, who never trained as an actor, saw his career take off after winning an essential role as a nuclear power plant engineer in “The China Syndrome.” “Training? I’ve never been to acting classes, but I’ve had 50 years of Training,” he said in a 1984 Associated Press interview. “My years as an extra were a good background for learning about camera techniques and so forth. I was lucky to have had that experience; a lot of newcomers don’t.”
“My method is, to be honest,” Brimley said, told AP. “The camera photographs the truth — not what I want it to see, but what it sees. The truth.” Brimley had a recurring role as a blacksmith on “The Waltons” and the 1980s prime-time series “Our House.” Another side of the actor was his love of jazz. As a vocalist, he made albums, including “This Time the Dream’s On Me” and “Wilford Brimley with the Jeff Hamilton Trio.”
Brimley is survived by his wife Beverly and three sons
In 1998, he opposed an Arizona referendum to ban cockfighting, saying that he was “trying to protect a lifestyle of freedom and choice for my grandchildren.”
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.