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Wilford Brimley, actor in ‘Cocoon’ and ‘The Natural,’ dies at 85

Wilford Brimley, who worked his way up from stunt performer to star of film such as “Cocoon” and “The Natural,” has died.
Wilford Brimley, who worked his way up from stunt performer to starring roles in such films as “Cocoon” and “The Natural,” later became a TV pitchman for Quaker Oats.
(Evan Agostini / Associated Press)

Wilford Brimley, who worked his way up from stunt performer to starring roles in films such as “Cocoon” and “The Natural,” has died. He was 85.

Brimley’s manager, Lynda Bensky, said the actor died Saturday morning in a Utah hospital. He was on dialysis and had several ailments, she said.

The mustached Brimley was a familiar face for a number of roles, often playing gruff characters like his grizzled baseball manager in “The Natural.”

Brimley’s best-known work was in “Cocoon,” in which he was part of a group of seniors who discover an alien pod that rejuvenates them. The 1985 Ron Howard film won two Oscars, including a supporting actor honor for Don Ameche.

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Brimley also starred in “Cocoon: The Return,” a 1988 sequel.

For years he was a 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.”

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Though never nominated for an Oscar or an Emmy, Brimley amassed an impressive list of credits. In the 1993 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.

A Utah native, Brimley began his Hollywood career in the late 1960s as a stuntman, where he forged a friendship with Robert Duvall. Duvall’s encouragement led Brimley to seek more prominent roles, and his career took off after his appearance in 1979’s “The China Syndrome,” according to a biography prepared by Turner Classic Movies.

Brimley had a recurring role as a blacksmith on “The Waltons” and the 1980s prime-time series “Our House.”

In recent years, Brimley’s pitch 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.

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Brimley is survived by his wife, Beverly, and three sons.


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