'Cocoon' actor Wilford Brimley dies at 85

Actor Wilford Brimley attends the premiere of Did You Hear About the Morgans? in New York City on December 14, 2009 Brimley passed away on August 1, 2020 at 85.
Actor Wilford Brimley attends the premiere of "Did You Hear About the Morgans?" in New York City on Dec. 14, 2009. Brimley passed away Saturday at age 85.
Bryan Bedder | Getty Images 2009

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 “Cocoon,” “The Natural” and “The Firm,” has died. He was 85.

The actor died Saturday morning at a Utah hospital, according to his manager, Lynda Bensky. He was on dialysis and had several medical issues.

"Wilford Brimley was a man you could trust," Bensky said. "He said what he meant and he meant what he said. He had a gruff 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."

He was born in Salt Lake City, Utah, on Sept. 27, 1934. Brimley is best known for his role in Cocoon, where he was one of a group of older adults who discover aliens and gain youthful rejuvenation from them. The film won two Academy Awards, and Brimley returned for a 1988 sequel.

On the small screen, Brimley was also known for his work as the Quaker Oats spokesman in a series of commercials in the '80s and '90s.

The actor was diagnosed with diabetes mellitus in 1979 and worked to raise awareness for the disease. He became a beloved Internet meme after appearing in a Liberty Mutual ad because of his pronunciation of diabetes. The video earned him the name "diabeetus" guy, a moniker he has personally accepted in a tweet.

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Brimley was also a talented singer and musician, and released several albums including "This Time, the Dream's On Me," and "Wilford Brimley with the Jeff Hamilton Trio." In a 2011 interview with Craig Ferguson, the actor broke out a harmonica to play a rendition of "Oh, Susannah"

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.

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 “True Grit,” and appearing in TV series such as “Gunsmoke."

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 “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 good background for learning about camera techniques and so forth. I was lucky to have had that experience; a lot of newcomers don’t."

“Basically 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 is survived by his wife Beverly and three sons.

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