Wilford Brimley, the mustachioed face of Quaker Oats and a longtime diabetes awareness advocate, died on Saturday at a hospital in St. George, Utah.
The 85-year-old actor had been sick for two months with a kidney ailment, according to the New York Times.
“Wilford Brimley was a man you could trust. He said what he meant and he meant what he said,” said Lynda Bensky, Brimley’s manager, according to CNN. “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.”
While he would later become known for playing gruffer roles, Brimley first starred as the soft-spoken Horace Brimely in the TV series “The Waltons” before his breakthrough role came in 1979, when he played Ted Spindler in “The China Syndrome.”
In his next two films — “The Electric Horseman” and “Brubaker” — Brimley starred alongside Robert Redford, according to Vanity Fair. From there, the Utah native was featured in a wide range of big-screen films, including “The Thing,” “The Natural” (also starring Redford) and “Cocoon.”
Brimley also starred in Quaker Oats commercials throughout the 1980s and 90s — “it’s the right thing to do” — and represented Liberty Medical, a company that sold diabetes-testing supplies. Brimley received a diabetes diagnosis in the late 1970s, according to the New York Times.
The actor was born on Sept. 27, 1934, in Salt Lake City. While in high school, he enlisted in the U.S. Marine Corps and was stationed for three years in the Aleutian Islands during the Korean War, according to the Hollywood Reporter.
Before making it as an actor, Brimley was a blacksmith, rodeo rider, Hollywood extra and bodyguard for Howard Hughes, according to the Hollywood Reporter. His skill with horses led to nonspeaking roles on shows like “Gunsmoke and “Bonanza.”
Later, Brimley had one-off appearances in hit shows like “Walker, Texas Ranger” and “Seinfeld,” where he played Henry Atkins, a U.S. postmaster general who intimidates Kramer into keeping his junk mail.
Brimley is survived by his wife, Beverly, and three sons. Over the weekend, people in the film and TV industry took to social media to share their thoughts about the actor, as well as their favorite scenes.
“Charmed” actress Shannen Doherty, who starred with Brimley in the NBC drama “Our House,” said in an Instagram post that Brimley gave her a horse named Brownie, taught her how to ski in Utah and was “like a grandpa.”
Ron Howard, who directed the 1985 film “Cocoon,” admired Brimley’s ability to improvise on set.
RIP #WilfordBrimley We didn’t always see eye 2 eye but I owe this Cocoon scene to Wilfred 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 in every take https://t.co/yADBwFxvdR…
— Ron Howard (@RealRonHoward) August 2, 2020
Stephen Colbert touched on Brimley’s musical talent (in addition to acting, Brimley recorded several albums of jazz standards).
RIP Wilford Brimley – so many great performances, but I’ll never forget seeing him sing this surprisingly tender “It’s Not Easy Being Green” https://t.co/xdvh9qGhMj
— Stephen Colbert (@StephenAtHome) August 2, 2020
Darren Rovell, a sports business analyst, wrote: “Please don’t remember Wilford Brimley for the way he said “Diabeetus.” Watch “The Natural,” watch “Cocoon.” I’d argue no actor under 50 played an old man in those films better than he did.”
Please don’t remember Wilford Brimley for the way he said “Diabeetus.” Watch “The Natural,” watch “Cocoon.” I’d argue no actor under 50 played an old man in those films better than he did. pic.twitter.com/Vg3amzdP7a
— Darren Rovell (@darrenrovell) August 2, 2020
Actor/comedian Rob Schneider described Brimley as a “versatile character actor who could do any genre; drama, comedy, horror.”
1/3 We lost a truly great human being & an incredible actor tonight. Starting out as a horse wrangler, Willford Brimley became a versatile character actor who could do any genre; drama, comedy,horror. I’ll never forget Wilford Brimley telling me the best direction he ever got… pic.twitter.com/OELY0T10Yv
— Rob Schneider (@RobSchneider) August 2, 2020
John Carpenter, who directed the sci-fi horror film “The Thing,” called Brimley “the real thing.”
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
Brimley’s last tweet came on July 31, a funny post sharing popular choices for his potential wrestling name: Under Quaker, Brim-stone, Killford Brimley and The DIE-A-BEASTUS.
“To know Wilford was to love Wilford,” the actor’s talent agent, Dominic Mancini, said in a statement. “He had an amazing career and sliced through the screen with his dry wit, stoic stature and powerful conveyance. His unique blend of unexpected comedy and indelible storytelling will always remain unmatched.”