Wilford Brimley, Unmistakable Screen Presence, Dies at 85
One of the most recognizable faces in screen history has died. Wilford Brimley, who brought a wonderfully gruff texture to scores of films and television shows, passed away this weekend. His manager told The Hollywood Reporter that Brimley “had been on dialysis and had other medical issues and was in the ICU in St. George, Utah ahead of his death.” Brimley had suffered from diabetes for many years.
With his tough demeanor and perpetual mustache, Brimley was one of the most unforgettable character actors of the 20th century. Born in Utah in 1934, he served in the Marines and then got his start in acting as an extra for Westerns. He played key supporting roles in The China Syndrome and Absence of Malice, and then appeared alongside his friend Robert Duvall in Tender Mercies.
Brimley played the biologist Blair in John Carpenter’s The Thing, and the manager in The Natural. He then appeared in Cocoon as one of the members of a retirement home who find a fountain of youth. Brimley was just 50 at the time of shooting the film, which became a meme in the internet era, as one actor after another turned 50 and kept playing action heroes and was inevitably compared to the curmudgeonly Brimley.
Brimley also brought that amusingly grumpy presence to a long-running series of Quaker Oats ads in the ’80s and ’90s. Literally every person alive in that period has seen one (or dozens) of these commercials:
Brimley might not have had the widest range as an actor, but he knew how to use his gifts. He excelled in roles as cantankerous outsiders. He even played an action hero, of a kind, in John Woo’s underrated Hard Target, where his Douvee is the irascible Cajun sidekick and uncle of Jean-Claude Van Damme’s hero. Every scene Brimley is in is a delight.
If that doesn’t make you smile, nothing will. And that was Brimley, who had an ineffable gift for this sort of small but lively role that brightened a picture or an ad for oatmeal. That is a gift that is rare, and will be remembered.
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