Cocoon star Wilford Brimley dies aged 85

Wilford Brimley, Hume Cronyn and Don Ameche in Cocoon

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 aged 85.

Brimley's manager Lynda Bensky, said the actor died on Saturday in hospital in Utah, in the US. He had several medical ailments, she said.

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

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American actors Wilford Brimley, Hume Cronyn and Don Ameche acting in a greenhouse in the film Cocoon. 1985 (Photo by Mondadori via Getty Images)
America actor Wilford Brimley (as Wells) points as he sits behind a desk in a scene from 'Absence of Malice' (directed by Sydney Pollack), 1981. (Photo by Silver Screen Collection/Getty Images)
Charles Hallahan, Peter Maloney, Keith David, Wilford Brimley, Joel Polis and Donald Moffat on the set of "The Thing". (Photo by Sunset Boulevard/Corbis via Getty Images)
American actor and director Don Ameche (Dominic Felix Amici), American actor Wilford Brimley and Canadian actor Hume Cronyn laughing in swimsuit in the film Cocoon: The Return. 1988 (Photo by Mondadori via Getty Images)
OUR HOUSE -- Season 1 -- Pictured: (l-r) Deidre Hall as Jessica 'Jessie' Witherspoon, Wilford Brimley as Gus Witherspoon -- Photo by: Frank Carroll/NBCU Photo Bank
OUR HOUSE -- Season 1 -- Pictured: (clockwise, top left) Shannen Doherty as Kris Witherspoon, Chad Allen as David Witherspoon, Deidre Hall as Jessica 'Jessie' Witherspoon, Keri Houlihan as Molly Witherspoon, Wilford Brimley as Gus Witherspoon -- Photo by: Frank Carroll/NBCU Photo Bank
OUR HOUSE -- Season 1 -- 1987: Pictured: (clockwise, top left) Deidre Hall as Jessica 'Jessie' Witherspoon, Shannen Doherty as Kris Witherspoon, Keri Houlihan as Molly Witherspoon, Wilford Brimley as Gus Witherspoon, Chad Allen as David Witherspoon -- Photo by: Frank Carroll/NBCU Photo Bank
Wilford Brimley (Photo by Ron Galella/Ron Galella Collection via Getty Images) *** Local Caption ***
Wilford Brimley (Photo by Ron Galella/Ron Galella Collection via Getty Images) *** Local Caption ***
NEW YORK - DECEMBER 14: Actor Wilford Brimley attends a screening of the movie "Did You Hear About The Morgans" held at the Zegfeld theater in Manhattan on December 14, 2009 in New York City. (Photo by Marcel Thomas/FilmMagic)
UNIVERSAL CITY, CA - SEPTEMBER 24: Actor Wilford Brimley speaks on stage at the 50th Anniversary Stuntmens Gala Honoring Harrison Ford on September 24, 2011 in Universal City, California. (Photo by Imeh Akpanudosen/Getty Images)
OUR HOUSE -- Pictured: Wilford Brimley as Gus Witherspoon -- Photo by: NBCU Photo Bank
OUR HOUSE -- Season 1 -- Pictured: (l-r) Wilford Brimley as Gus Witherspoon, Deidre Hall as Jessica 'Jessie' Witherspoon -- Photo by: NBCU Photo Bank
CHERRY HILL, NJ - MARCH 10: Wilford Brimley attends the 2017 Monster Mania Con at NJ Crowne Plaza Hotel on March 10, 2017 in Cherry Hill, New Jersey. (Photo by Bobby Bank/Getty Images)
BURBANK, CA - SEPTEMBER 16: Actor Wilford Brimley attends Day 2 of the 2017 Son Of Monsterpalooza Convention held at Marriott Burbank Airport Hotel on September 16, 2017 in Burbank, California. (Photo by Albert L. Ortega/Getty Images)
PARSIPPANY, NJ - OCTOBER 26: Wilford Brimley attends the Chiller Theatre Expo Fall 2019 at Parsippany Hilton on October 25, 2019 in Parsippany, New Jersey. (Photo by Bobby Bank/Getty Images)
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 “Cocoon” and “The Natural,” has died. He was 85. Brimley’s manager Lynda Bensky said the actor died Saturday morning, Aug. 1, 2020 in a Utah hospital. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak, File)
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Brimley's best-known work was in Cocoon, in which he was part of a group of older people who discover an alien pod that rejuvenates them. The 1985 Ron Howard film won two Oscars, including a supporting actor honour for Don Ameche.

Brimley also starred in Cocoon: The Return, 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.

"Wilford Brimley was a man you could trust," Bensky said in a statement.

"He 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."

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 the part was "the main great thing from the film. I was overjoyed making those scenes and especially working with Wilford Brimley".

As a younger man Brimley spent two decades travelling 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 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.

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 promotion work 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.

Brimley is survived by his wife Beverly and three sons.

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