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


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.

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 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.”

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.

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 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, Brimley amassed an impressive list of credits. In 1993’s 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.

John Woo, who directed 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, Brimley spent two decades traveling around the West and working at ranches and race tracks. 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.

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

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, Brimley’s pitchwork 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.

Brimley is survived by his wife Beverly and three sons.


AP Entertainment Writer Anthony McCartney contributed to this report.

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Senior Living: You are what you eat – and that includes your brain

By David W. Hart, Ph.D. 

Contributing writer

Did you know that epidemiologists who study the effects of diet on longevity have described ours as the Standard American Diet, otherwise known as the SAD diet? The acronym alone might tell you everything you need to know about the negative health outcomes related to Americans’ typical food regimen.

It’s no secret that eating processed foods, sugary drinks, sweets, an overabundance of red meat and dairy, and limiting intake of antioxidants, vitamins and minerals may increase an individual’s risk for cardiovascular disease, obesity, and diabetes.  But did you know that what you eat is also significantly correlated to cognitive impairment that may be symptomatic of Alzheimer’s disease (AD) or another dementia?

David W. Hart, Ph.D.

Researchers have identified patterns in the results of studies on longevity: metabolic health, most commonly controlled by diet and exercise, has a significant effect on the incidence and prevalence of AD.

A seminal study published in JAMA Neurology found that older adults with a history of diabetes were 65 percent more likely to develop Alzheimer’s. Another study on the correlation between diabetes and brain function found that women who had type II diabetes had poorer cognition. Obesity has also been identified as a significant and independent risk factor for Alzheimer’s and midlife obesity, defined as having a body mass index greater than 30 and midlife, increased risk for AD by up to 74 percent. Additionally, higher rates of unhealthy cholesterol (LDL) in coupled with marked hypertension were also associated with an increased risk for Alzheimer’s disease by 2.8 times. When it comes to overall brain health, the old saying you are what you eat has never been more relevant.

We know that Alzheimer’s disease is reaching epidemic proportions with the number of Americans diagnosed with the disease expected to reach nearly 16 million by 2050. Sadly, a cure is nowhere in sight and identifying specific lifestyle strategies shown to potentially lower risk for the disease is critical. The good news: we know what to do. The not so good news: we may not be motivated to do it. Let’s change that!

Diet’s impact

The Mediterranean Diet is consistently linked to lower rates of Alzheimer’s disease. Of the five countries with the longest average life expectancies, all have diets composed primarily of whole foods, grains, fruits, vegetables, and fish – the hallmarks of a Mediterranean style diet. Interestingly, residents of Japan have a lower rate of the disease than Americans; however, Japanese Americans have a higher rate than those living in Japan. Can you guess the primary contributing factor in the discrepancy between the two populations? That’s right! It’s partially diet!

Researchers at the Rush Institute for Healthy Aging found that seniors 65-94 who ate fish high in omega-3 fatty acids at least once weekly were at 60 percent less risk for developing Alzheimer’s disease than those who ate fish rarely or never.

In another study, conducted by the Departments of Medicine and Neurology at UCLA, curcumin, the active ingredient in the curry spice turmeric, was shown to prevent formation of amyloid plaques, one of the hallmark neuropathological changes in Alzheimer’s disease. Finally, as published in the Annals of Neurology, when dietary habits of 2,258 elderly men in New York were followed across four years, researchers found that the rate of Alzheimer’s disease among those seniors who adhered most strictly to the Mediterranean diet was 40 percent lower than among those didn’t follow diet.


  • To learn more about the science and practice of a brain healthy lifestyle, join the South Bay Dementia Education Consortium for a free workshop facilitated by Drs. Dean and Ayesha Sherzai – directors of the Alzheimer’s Prevention Program at Loma Linda University Medical Center and the authors of “The Alzheimer’s Solution: A Breakthrough Program to Prevent and Reverse the Symptoms of Cognitive Decline at Every Age.” The workshop is from 5:30 – 7:30 p.m. Feb. 12 at the Redondo Beach Main Library, 303 N Pacific Coast Highway. To RSVP, call (310) 374-3426 ext. 256.
  • If you’d like to join me for my monthly “Aging Matters” series, our next session is from noon – 1:30 p.m. Feb. 5 . We will continue our discussion on how to effectively adapt to the frequent changes that come with age by tapping into the wisdom of resiliency. To RSVP, you can email me at dhart@abc-seniors.com.

In the meantime, be well.

David Hart, Ph.D., is the director of clinical services at Always Best Care Senior Services in Torrance and is a faculty member in the Department of Counseling at California State University, Fullerton.  Hart, founding chair and member of the South Bay Dementia Education Consortium, specializes in working with older adults with dementia and their families. For more information, go to alwaysbestcaresouthbay.com or contact him at dhart@abc-seniors.com or at (310) 792-8666.  

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