Wilford Brimley, Star of ‘Cocoon’ and ‘The Natural,’ Dies at 85

WSJ / AP

LOS ANGELES—Wilford Brimley, who worked his way up from stunt performer to star of films such as “Cocoon” and “The Natural,” has died. He was 85.

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

The mustachioed Mr. Brimley was a familiar face for a number of roles, often playing gruff characters such as a grizzled baseball manager in “The Natural.”

Mr. 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.

Mr. 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,” Ms. Bensky 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.”

Though never nominated for an Oscar or Emmy Award, Mr. Brimley amassed an impressive list of credits. In 1993’s John Grisham adaptation, “The Firm,” Mr. Brimley starred opposite Tom Cruise as a tough-nosed investigator who deployed ruthless tactics to keep his law firm’s secrets safe.

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

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

In recent years, Mr. 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

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

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