Wilford Brimley, ‘Cocoon’ Star and Quaker Oats Pitchman, Is Dead at 85

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Anthony Wilford Brimley was born on Sept. 27, 1934, in Salt Lake City. His father, a real estate broker, sold the family farm in 1939 and moved his family to Santa Monica, Calif.

Tony, as he was known, dropped out of school at 14 and worked as a cowboy in Idaho, Nevada and Arizona before enlisting in the Marine Corps, which sent him to the Aleutian Islands. After leaving the service, he worked as a ranch hand, wrangler and blacksmith. Briefly, he was a bodyguard for Howard Hughes.

He began shoeing horses for television and film westerns, and gradually took nonspeaking roles on horseback. He appeared as a stuntman in “Bandolero!,” in an uncredited role in “True Grit” and as a blacksmith in the television series “Kung Fu.”

After “The China Syndrome,” he worked steadily. He played Harry, the former manager of the country singer played by Robert Duvall, in “Tender Mercies,” and the eccentric tycoon Bradley Tozer in the Tom Selleck adventure film “High Road to China,” before returning to the role of Ben Luckett in “Cocoon: The Return.”

From 1986 to 1988 he had a starring role as Gus Witherspoon, the opinionated but lovable grandfather in the NBC series “Our House,” yet again confounding the usual Hollywood aging process by portraying, in his early 50s, a character who was 65.

“I’m never the leading man,” he told The Dallas Morning News in 1993. “I never get the girl. And I never get to take my shirt off. I started by playing fathers to guys who were 25 years older than I was.”

In part because of his television commercials, Mr. Brimley made the transition from actor to comic source material. John Goodman did a parody of his diabetes commercial on “Saturday Night Live,” and in 1997 he appeared in a cameo role on “Seinfeld” as the short-tempered postmaster general, Henry Atkins.


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