‘Cocoon’ and ‘Natural’ actor Wilford Brimley dies at 85

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LOS ANGELES – Wilford Brimley, who rose from a movie stuntman to an indelible actor who brought gruff charm, and at times a menace, to a lineup of films including “Cocoon,” “The Natural” and “The Firm,” is dead. He was 85 years old. Brimley manager Lynda Bensky said the actor died Saturday morning at a Utah hospital. He was on dialysis and suffered from several health issues, she said.

The mustached Brimley was a familiar face for a number of roles, often playing characters like his grizzled baseball manager in “The Natural” in the face of 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 elderly people who discover an alien capsule that rejuvenates them. The 1985 film Ron Howard won two Oscars, including a supporting actor for Don Ameche.

Brimley also starred in “Cocoon: The Return”, a 1988 sequel.

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

“Wilford Brimley was a man of confidence,” Bensky said in a statement. “He said what he wanted to say and he meant what he said. He had a hard exterior and a tender heart. I am sad that I can no longer hear the wonderful stories of my friend. He was one of a kind. ”

Barbara Hershey, who met Brimley on “Last of the Dogmen” in 1995, called him “a wonderful man and actor. … He always made me laugh. ”

Although he was never nominated for an Oscar or an Emmy Award, Brimley amassed an impressive list of credits. In the 1993 John Grisham adaptation of “The Firm,” Brimley starred alongside Tom Cruise as a hard-nosed investigator who deployed ruthless tactics to protect the secrets of his law firm.

John Woo, who directed Brimley as Uncle Douvee on “Hard Target” in 1993, told The Hollywood Reporter in 2018 that the role was “the gist of the movie. I was delighted to do these scenes and especially to work with Wilford Brimley. ”

A native of Utah who grew up around horses, Brimley spent two decades traveling the West and working on ranches and race tracks. He got into the cinema in the 1960s, in films such as “True Grit” and in television series such as “Gunsmoke”.

He struck up 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 a prominent 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 an interview with the Associated Press in 1984.“ My years as a substitute have been a good foundation. to learn camera techniques and so on. I was lucky to have had this experience; many newcomers do not.

“Basically my method is to be honest,” Brimley 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 aspect of the actor was his love of jazz. As a singer, he has produced albums including “This Time the Dream’s On Me” and “Wilford Brimley with the Jeff Hamilton Trio”.

In 1998, he opposed a referendum in Arizona to ban cockfighting, saying 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 stretched pronunciation of diabetes as “diabeetus.” He possessed 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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Anthony McCartney, editor of AP Entertainment, contributed to this report.

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