Wilford Brimley, the legendary character actor who starred in several great films throughout the 1970s and 1980s, died on Saturday. Brimley was best known for his roles in John Carpenter's The Thing and Ron Howard's Cocoon, as well as the diabetes education commercials he appeared in later in his career. He was 85.
His representative told TMZ Brimley died Saturday morning at his Utah home. Sources close to Brimley said he was recently in an intensive care unit at a hospital on dialysis and was sick for several days. He is survived by his wife Beverly and three children. His representative told TMZ Brimley had a favorite quote, which he found on a blacksmith's sign. "There is nothing made, sold, or done that can't be made, sold, or done cheaper," the quote read. "If price is your only concern, please do business with my competitor."
Brimley was born Anthony Wilford Brimley in Salt Lake City on Sept. 27, 1934, and served in the U.S. Marine Corps before he became an actor. He started acting in the late 1960s, appearing as an extra in Westerns. His breakthrough role came in 1974, when he joined the TV series The Waltons as Horace Brimley, appearing in 10 episodes through 1977.
In 1979, Brimley starred in The China Syndrome, opposite Jack Lemmon, Michael Douglas, and Jane Fonda. This helped establish his movie career, and he began appearing in multiple movies almost every year. His incredible list of 1980s credits includes Absence of Malice, The Thing, The Natural, Tender Mercies, Cocoon, Jackals, Cocoon: The Return, and End of the Line. Throughout the 1990s and early 2000s, he continued starring in movies regularly, appearing in The Firm, In & Out, All My Friends Are Cowboys, and Comanche. Brimley also made memorable one-episode appearances on Seinfeld and Homicide: Life on the Street. His final film was the 2017 family movie I Believe.
For many though, Brimley was known for his appearances in two successful ad campaigns. In the 1980s and 1990s, he was featured in Quaker Oats commercials. He also appeared in Liberty Medical's commercials for diabetes testing supplies, inspired by his own diagnosis with diabetes mellitus in 1979. He became a lifelong advocate for raising awareness of diabetes and received the American Diabetes' Association's lifetime achievement honor in 2008.
Brimley was also lovingly the subject of a meme. Since he looked significantly older than he really was in 1985, Howard cast him in Cocoon, opposite classic Hollywood stars like Don Ameche and Hume Cronyn who were much older than Brimley in real life. A Twitter page tracked celebrities' "Brimley/Cocoon line," marking the moment when a star crossed 18,530 days old, which was how old Brimley was when he made the film. Brimley often "welcomed" stars to the club on Twitter.
Brimley embraced the position he had in pop culture. In a 2014 interview with the Powell Tribune, he said it was impossible to stop people from making fun of his diabetes advocacy, which he took great pride in. "One of the funniest was when John Goodman played me on a commercial on Saturday Night Live," Brimley recalled. "You can’t stop that. You can either accept that or let it bother you. I accept it."