‘Cocoon’ Actor Wilford Brimley Dies @ 85

Wilford Brimley, the curmudgeonly character actor most famous for Cocoon (1985) and as the no-nonsense face of Quaker Oats and Liberty medical, died Saturday in St. George, Utah.

In Absence of Malice and (inset) The Natural (Images via Columbia & TriStar)

He was 85.

TMZ confirmed that Brimley, who had lived with diabetes (in TV ads, he colloquially called it "diabeetus") for more than 40 years, was in poor health and on dialysis for weeks leading up to his death.

Born September 27, 1934, in Salt Lake City, the lifelong Mormon served in the Marines and performed a number of colorful tasks — among them serving as a bodyguard for eccentric billionaire Howard Hughes (1905-1976) — before his job shoeing horses for western films led to extra work, including in True Grit (1969). Once an extra, he began performing stunts, and at the urging of his close friend Robert Duvall (b. 1931) went into acting.

Brimley's first-ever credited work as an actor was on TV's The Waltons, on which he played neighbor Horace Brimley on several episodes from 1974-1977.

His credited movie debut was in The China Syndrome (1979), directed by James Bridges (1936-1993) and starring Jane Fonda (b. 1937), Michael Douglas (1944) and Jack Lemmon (1925-2001). Of Lemmon, Brimley once remarked he'd first met the actor while seeking his autograph, and had no idea they'd one day work on the same film.

He stole scenes in Absence of Malice (1981), The Thing (1982) and Tender Mercies (1983), and after The Natural (1984), he landed his biggest role, as Ben Luckett in Cocoon (1985).

Cocoon cast (L-R): Brimley, Maureen Stapleton, Hume Cronyn, Jessica Tandy, Don Ameche & Gwen Verdon (Image via TriStar)

Cocoon, the Ron Howard (b. 1954) hit about a group of old-timers in an assisted-living facility who discover that a pool housing alien pods confers youthful vigor, found Brimley — age 49 when cast — playing a man decades older, and playing him opposite such aged legends as Don Ameche (1908-1993), Hume Cronyn (1911-2003), Jessica Tandy (1909-1994), Maureen Stapleton (1925-2006) and Gwen Verdon (1925-2000). Brian Dennehy, who appeared as an alien the film, died at 81 in April.

Brimley could never quite top that gig — though he reprised his role in Cocoon: The Return (1988) — but had a successful run with the TV series Our House (1986-1988), was outstanding in a villainous role in The Firm (1993) starring Tom Cruise (b. 1962) and was the father of Kevin Kline's (b. 1947) gay character in In & Out (1997).

From then on, though seen in the Sarah Jessica Parker (b. 1965) romantic thriller Did You Hear About the Morgans? (2009) and in a series of indies, most of Brimley's work, and successes, came on TV, including a hilarious guest spot as the U.S. Postmaster General on Seinfeld (1997), in the TV movie Crossfire Trail (2001) and as a longtime pitchman for Quaker Oats and Liberty Medical.

His Liberty spots were iconic for his deadpan delivery, which was spoofed by John Goodman (b. 1952) on SNL.

Goodman as Brimley (Image via video still)

Brimley was also a devoted singer, releasing a jazz standards album in 2004, and an accomplished harmonica player. Here he is singing, apparently in 2019:

Brimley also appeared at Chiller Theatre, a horror-themed autograph show, in New Jersey in October 2019.

His first wife, Lynne, preceded him in death in 2000, and one of his children with her also apparently preceded him in death.

He is survived by his second wife, Beverly, and three sons.

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