Wilford Brimley may best be known as the spokesperson for Quaker Oats and the face of diabetes awareness, not to mention having one of the finest mustaches and a soothing, grandfatherly voice. But he was also a gifted character actor, having appeared in movies such as Cocoon, The Thing, The Natural, and The Firm. Unfortunately, Wilford Brimley has now left this world at 85 years old.
TMZ was the first to hear that Wilford Brimley had died Saturday morning at his home in Utah. The New York Times added that Brimley had recently been in the ICU wing of the hospital after being sick for roughly two months due to complications with his kidneys.
Born in Salt Lake City, Utah and raised in Santa Monica, California, Wilford Brimley became a real-life cowboy in Idaho, Nevada and Arizona before enlisting in the Marine Corps. After his service, he returned to blue collar work as a ranch hand, wrangler and blacksmith, all of which would inform his western-esque screen presence that he brought to pretty much every role he played. In fact, it’s that work which started his career in Hollywood, shoeing horses for western movies and TV shows, even landing an uncredited role on horseback in Lawman and the original True Grit.
Following an appearance as a blacksmith in Kung Fu, he started working regularly on television in The Oregon Trail, The Awakening Land, How the West Was Won, including a recurring role on The Waltons.
But it was his scene-stealing performance in The China Syndrome with Jack Lemmon and Jane Fonda that gave him a career breakthrough that would turn him into one of Hollywood’s most recognizable character actors.
Throughout the 1980s, Brimley went back and forth between big screen features and TV movies. His roles in feature films included Brubaker, Borderline, Absence of Malice, Death Valley, The Thing, 10 to Midnight, Tough Enough, The Natural, and Cocoon. On TV, Brimley could be spotted in Roughnecks, High Road to China, Rodeo Girl, Murder in Space, and Ewoks: The Battle for Endor.
Funnily enough, the 1980s also gave Brimley a role in The Firm TV series, and he would later have a key supporting role in the feature film adaptation of John Grishm’s novel The Firm, though the series has nothing to do with the book or film adaptation. Other memorable film appearances came in the 90s with Hard Target, My Fellow Americans, and In & Out, as well as a guest appearance in Seinfeld.
But the 1980s and 1990s also turned Brimley into a commercial star as he became known as the spokerperson for Quaker Oats, delivering the friendly but vaguely stern tagline, “”It’s the right thing to do and the tasty way to do it.” After contracting diabetes, Brimley also became known for appearing in numerous TV ads for Liberty Medical, a company specializing in home delivery of medical products such as diabetes testing supplies.
Brimley also used his rich voice to record several jazz albums, and he was a skilled guitarist as well.
Few actors become as famous as Wilford Brimley without winning any Oscars or Emmys, but he was a homegrown, humble man with a strong presence on-screen, and his real life experiences immediately added weight to any character he played. Rest in peace.
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