Gruff char­ac­ter ac­tor brought charm to ‘Nat­u­ral,’ ‘Co­coon’

Chicago Sun-Times - - OBITUARIES - BY LYNN ELBER AP Tele­vi­sion Writer

LOS AN­GE­LES — Wil­ford Brim­ley, who worked his way up from movie stunt rider to an in­deli­ble char­ac­ter ac­tor who brought gruff charm, and some­times men­ace, to a range of films that in­cluded “Co­coon,” “The Nat­u­ral” and “The Firm,” 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 mus­tached Mr. Brim­ley was a fa­mil­iar face for a num­ber of roles, of­ten play­ing char­ac­ters like his griz­zled base­ball man­ager in “The Nat­u­ral” op­po­site Robert Red­ford’s bad-luck phe­nom­e­non. He also worked with Red­ford in “Brubaker” and “The Elec­tric Horse­man.”

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 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.”

Bar­bara Her­shey, who met Mr. Brim­ley on 1995’s “Last of the Dog­men,” called him “a won­der­ful man and ac­tor . . . . He al­ways made me laugh.”

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 tough­nosed in­ves­ti­ga­tor who de­ployed ruth­less tac­tics to keep his law firm’s se­crets safe.

John Woo, who di­rected Mr. Brim­ley as Un­cle Dou­vee in 1993’s “Hard Tar­get,” told The Hol­ly­wood Re­porter in 2018 that the part was “the main great thing from the film. I was over­joyed mak­ing those scenes and es­pe­cially work­ing with Wil­ford Brim­ley.”

A Utah native who grew up around horses, Mr. Brim­ley spent two decades trav­el­ing around the West and work­ing at ranches and race­tracks. He drifted into movie work dur­ing the 1960s, rid­ing in such films as “True Grit” and ap­pear­ing in TV se­ries such as “Gun­smoke.”

He forged a friend­ship with Robert Du­vall, who en­cour­aged him to seek more prom­i­nent act­ing roles, ac­cord­ing to a bi­og­ra­phy pre­pared by Turner Clas­sic Movies.

Mr. Brim­ley, who never trained as an ac­tor, saw his ca­reer take off af­ter he won an im­por­tant role as a nu­clear power plant en­gi­neer in “The China Syn­drome.”

“Train­ing? I’ve never been to act­ing classes, but I’ve had 50 years of train­ing,” he said in a 1984 As­so­ci­ated Press in­ter­view. “My years as an ex­tra were good back­ground for learn­ing about cam­era tech­niques and so forth. I was lucky to have had that ex­pe­ri­ence; a lot of new­com­ers don’t.”

“Ba­si­cally my method is to be hon­est,”

Mr. Brim­ley said told AP. “The cam­era pho­to­graphs the truth — not what I want it to see, but what it sees. The truth.”

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

Another side of the ac­tor was his love of jazz. As a vo­cal­ist, he made al­bums in­clud­ing “This Time the Dream’s On Me” and “Wil­ford Brim­ley with the Jeff Hamil­ton Trio.”

In 1998, he op­posed an Arizona ref­er­en­dum to ban cock­fight­ing, say­ing that he was “try­ing to pro­tect a life­style of free­dom and choice for my grand­chil­dren.”

In re­cent years, Mr. Brim­ley’s pitch­work for Lib­erty Med­i­cal 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.

EVAN AGOSTINI/AP

Wil­ford Brim­ley, who never trained as an ac­tor, saw his ca­reer take off af­ter he won an im­por­tant role as a nu­clear power plant en­gi­neer in “The China Syn­drome.”

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