Wilford Brimley, 'Cocoon' and 'Natural' actor, dies at 85

  • FILE - In this Monday, Dec. 14, 2009 file photo, Actor Wilford Brimley attends the premiere of 'Did You Hear About The Morgans' at the Ziegfeld Theater in New York. Wilford Brimley, who worked his way up from stunt performer to star of film such as 'úCocoon'Ě and 'úThe Natural,'Ě has died. He was 85. Brimley's manager Lynda Bensky said the actor died Saturday morning, Aug. 1, 2020 in a Utah hospital.

    FILE - In this Monday, Dec. 14, 2009 file photo, Actor Wilford Brimley attends the premiere of 'Did You Hear About The Morgans' at the Ziegfeld Theater in New York. Wilford Brimley, who worked his way up from stunt performer to star of film such as 'úCocoon'Ě and 'úThe Natural,'Ě has died. He was 85. Brimley's manager Lynda Bensky said the actor died Saturday morning, Aug. 1, 2020 in a Utah hospital. Associated Press

  • FILE - In this Jan. 4, 2008, file photo, Republican presidential hopeful, Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., left, introduces actor, Wilford Brimley, after making a reference to fellow Republican presidential hopeful, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, campaigning with actor Chuck Norris, as McCain makes a campaign stop at Hudson Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 5791, in Hudson, N.H. Brimley, who worked his way up from stunt performer to star of film such as 'úCocoon'Ě and 'úThe Natural,'Ě has died. He was 85. Brimley's manager Lynda Bensky said the actor died Saturday morning, Aug. 1, 2020 in a Utah hospital.

    FILE - In this Jan. 4, 2008, file photo, Republican presidential hopeful, Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., left, introduces actor, Wilford Brimley, after making a reference to fellow Republican presidential hopeful, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, campaigning with actor Chuck Norris, as McCain makes a campaign stop at Hudson Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 5791, in Hudson, N.H. Brimley, who worked his way up from stunt performer to star of film such as 'úCocoon'Ě and 'úThe Natural,'Ě has died. He was 85. Brimley's manager Lynda Bensky said the actor died Saturday morning, Aug. 1, 2020 in a Utah hospital. Associated Press

 
 
Updated 8/2/2020 9:34 AM

LOS ANGELES -- Wilford Brimley, who worked his way up from movie stunt rider to an indelible character actor who brought gruff charm, and sometimes menace, to a range of films that included 'úCocoon,'Ě 'úThe Natural'Ě and 'úThe Firm,'Ě has died. He was 85.

Brimley's manager Lynda Bensky said the actor died Saturday morning in a Utah hospital. He was on dialysis and had several medical ailments, she said.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

The mustached Brimley was a familiar face for a number of roles, often playing characters like his grizzled baseball manager in 'úThe Natural'Ě opposite Robert Redford's bad-luck phenomenon. He also worked with Redford in 'úBrubaker'Ě and 'úThe Electric Horseman.'Ě

Brimley's best-known work was in 'úCocoon,'Ě in which he was part of a group of seniors who discover an alien pod that rejuvenates them. The 1985 Ron Howard film won two Oscars, including a supporting actor honor for Don Ameche.

Brimley also starred in 'úCocoon: The Return,'Ě a 1988 sequel.

For years he was pitchman for Quaker Oats and in recent years appeared in a series of diabetes spots that turned him at one point into a social media sensation.

'úWilford Brimley was a man you could trust,'Ě Bensky said in a statement. 'úHe 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.'Ě

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Barbara Hershey, who met Brimley on 1995'≤s 'úLast of the Dogmen,'Ě called him 'úa wonderful man and actor. ... He always made me laugh.'Ě

Though never nominated for an Oscar or Emmy Award, Brimley amassed an impressive list of credits. In 1993's John Grisham adaptation 'úThe Firm,'Ě 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 'úHard Target,'Ě told The Hollywood Reporter in 2018 that the part was 'úthe main great thing from the film. I was overjoyed making those scenes and especially working with Wilford Brimley.'Ě

A Utah native who grew up around horses, Brimley spent two decades traveling around the West and working at ranches and race tracks. He drifted into movie work during the 1960s, riding in such films as 'úTrue Grit,'Ě and appearing in TV series such as 'úGunsmoke."

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 he won an important role as a nuclear power plant engineer in 'úThe China Syndrome.'Ě

'úTraining? I've never been to acting classes, but I've had 50 years of training,'Ě he said in a 1984 Associated Press interview. 'úMy years as an extra were good background for learning about camera techniques and so forth. I was lucky to have had that experience; a lot of newcomers don't."

'úBasically my method is to be honest,'Ě Brimley said told AP. 'úThe camera photographs the truth - not what I want it to see, but what it sees. The truth.'Ě

Brimley had a recurring role as a blacksmith on 'úThe Waltons'Ě and the 1980s prime-time series 'úOur House.'Ě

Another side of the actor was his love of jazz. As a vocalist, he made albums including 'úThis Time the Dream's On Me'Ě and 'úWilford Brimley with the Jeff Hamilton Trio.'Ě

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.'Ě

In recent years, Brimley's pitchwork for Liberty Medical had turned him into an internet sensation for his drawn out pronunciation of diabetes as 'údiabeetus.'Ě He owned the pronunciation in a tweet that drew hundreds of thousands of likes earlier this year.

Brimley is survived by his wife Beverly and three sons.

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AP Entertainment Writer Anthony McCartney contributed to this report.

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This story has corrected a reference to Liberty Medical.

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