Wilford Brimley, one of the most durable character actors whose signature Midwestern charm and walrus mustache delighted audiences on film and television, passed at the age of 85 on August 1. His agent Lynda Bensky told the New York Times he'd suffering kidney issues in recent months. Brimley's career spanned six decades across science fiction and drama peaking in the 1980s with iconic films like The Thing (1982), The Natural (1984), and Cocoon (1985).
Brimley made his on-screen debut in an uncredited role in 1969's True Grit, which starred John Wayne. He garnered an increasing presence on screen in several high-profile projects throughout the 70s on TV like Kung Fu, The Waltons, How the West Was Won, and The China Syndrome (1979). At the turn of the decade, Brimley played Dr. Blair, one of the doomed researchers in John Carpenter's The Thing, a remake of The Thing from Another World (1951). Most within the cinema world praised the 1982 film as the superior work.
Brimley played Pop Fisher, manager for the last place baseball club the Knights when Hobbs (Robert Redford) is recruited. The old rookie eventually won over Pop for his dedication and resourceful play. In Cocoon, Brimley plays Ben Luckett, one of three residents who benefit from the mysterious extraterrestrial powers left behind by the Antareans helping to restore their youth and strength. The actor more than holds his own in an all-star cast alongside Dan Ameche and Hume Cronyn. Brimley returned for the sequel Cocoon: The Return in 1988.
With Brimley's career slowing down from the 90s, but he continued taking smaller roles primarily on film steadily working until the 2017 film I Believe. He had memorable roles in Homicide: Life on the Street in a controversial episode surrounding euthanasia, and he had a comedic turn in a guest role on NBC's Seinfeld. Brimley was last attached to the drama/mystery Cellophane starring opposite Joanne Whalley, according to IMDB.com. The actor won a new generation of fans becoming a spokesman for Quaker Oats and the American Diabetes Association (and unintentional meme sensation).
Carpenter posted a tribute on Twitter. "Wilford Brimley was the real thing: a real cowboy, a great actor, a wonderful man. I'm going to miss you, Will. Rest in peace."
Wilford Brimley was the real thing: a real cowboy, a great actor, a wonderful man. I'm going to miss you, Will. Rest in peace.
— John Carpenter (@TheHorrorMaster) August 2, 2020
Ron Howard, who directed Brimley in Cocoon, recalled the time he ad-libbed a fishing scene.
RIP #WilfordBrimley We didn't always see eye 2 eye but I owe this Cocoon scene to Wilford who asked me to throw out the script & let him improvise while fishing w/the boy. I agreed & shot a few 3-camera set-ups & he was brilliant & honest https://t.co/hjgCVyUArc via @YouTube
— Ron Howard (@RealRonHoward) August 2, 2020
What is your fondest memory of Brimley?