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Wilford Brimley

Wilford Brimley

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Also Known As: A Wilford Brimley, A Wilfred Brimley, Bill Brimley Died:
Born: September 27, 1934 Cause of Death:
Birth Place: Salt Lake City, Utah, USA Profession: actor, extra, stuntman, horse trainer, ranch hand, blacksmith, businessman, bodyguard (for Howard Hughes)

Biography CLOSE THE FULL BIOGRAPHY

The actor of choice to play gruff, but lovable grandfathers, old salts and dispensers of sage advice in the 1980s, Wilford Brimley was a former real-life ranch hand who worked his way up the Hollywood food chain from stunt rider and extra to popular character actor and television pitchman. On the advice of friend Robert Duvall, Brimley set his course down the acting path and earned his big break in "The China Syndrome" (1979). By the mid-1980s, Brimley was adding old-fashioned grit and homespun charm to high-profile pictures like "The Natural" (1984), "Cocoon" (1985) and "The Firm" (1993), as well as on the primetime series "Our House" (NBC, 1986-88). His profile lessened in subsequent years, though his avuncular presence was well used in a series of ads for Quaker Oats and the Liberty Medical supply company, keeping fresh his distinctly whiskered visage to audiences.Born on Sept. 27, 1934 in Salt Lake City, UT, Brimley was the son of a real estate broker, who moved the family to California when his son was six years old. Brimley dropped out of high school to join the Marines during the Korean War, serving three years in the Aleutian Islands. After an honorable discharge, Brimley worked as a ranch...

The actor of choice to play gruff, but lovable grandfathers, old salts and dispensers of sage advice in the 1980s, Wilford Brimley was a former real-life ranch hand who worked his way up the Hollywood food chain from stunt rider and extra to popular character actor and television pitchman. On the advice of friend Robert Duvall, Brimley set his course down the acting path and earned his big break in "The China Syndrome" (1979). By the mid-1980s, Brimley was adding old-fashioned grit and homespun charm to high-profile pictures like "The Natural" (1984), "Cocoon" (1985) and "The Firm" (1993), as well as on the primetime series "Our House" (NBC, 1986-88). His profile lessened in subsequent years, though his avuncular presence was well used in a series of ads for Quaker Oats and the Liberty Medical supply company, keeping fresh his distinctly whiskered visage to audiences.

Born on Sept. 27, 1934 in Salt Lake City, UT, Brimley was the son of a real estate broker, who moved the family to California when his son was six years old. Brimley dropped out of high school to join the Marines during the Korean War, serving three years in the Aleutian Islands. After an honorable discharge, Brimley worked as a ranch hand, wrangler and blacksmith throughout the Western states, then spent three years as bodyguard to Howard Hughes. When he returned to California, he found work at stables that provided horses for film and television projects, but soon after lit out again to work as a cowboy in Idaho. He eventually returned to Los Angeles to find work as a riding extra and stunt man in Hollywood Westerns like "Bandolero!" (1968).

During this period, Brimley struck a friendship with Robert Duvall, who encouraged him to become an actor. Brimley eventually logged enough hours as a stunt man to earn his Screen Actors Guild card and soon landed small parts in "True Grit" (1969) and "Lawman" (1971). Brimley was frequently credited as "A. Wilford Brimley" in his early roles, a trend that continued until the mid-1980s. In 1974, Brimley began a recurring role on "The Waltons" (CBS, 1972-1981) as town blacksmith Horace Brimley, which lasted until 1977. His dedication to his craft impressed cast member Ralph Waite, who invited Brimley to join and train with his Los Angeles Actors Theater. Soon after, Brimley graduated to larger character roles, many of which emphasized his skill with gruff blue-color types. He earned his first spate of solid reviews as Ted Spindler, a foreman at a nuclear facility who knows that his plant suffers from safety issues, in "The China Syndrome" (1979). The film's finale afforded Brimley an emotional soliloquy which caught the eye of numerous producers and casting agents.

Brimley was soon riding high as a character actor in Hollywood features throughout the 1980s. Robert Redford employed him on several occasions, first as a farmer in "The Electric Horseman" (1979) and later in "Brubaker" (1980), before giving Brimley one of his best roles as the crusty manager of a struggling baseball farm team in Barry Levinson's "The Natural" (1984). Other solid performances came as a tough assistant attorney general in "Absence of Malice" (1981), a scientist who is driven mad by an alien presence in John Carpenter's cult classic "The Thing" (1982) and the no-nonsense manager of Robert Duvall's ex-wife (Betty Buckley) in "Tender Mercies" (1983).

Brimley's biggest hit came as one of a trio of senior citizens (alongside Don Ameche and Hume Cronyn) who discover that a hidden alien pod is also the fountain of youth in Ron Howard's "Cocoon" (1985). The role emphasized the gentler aspects of his screen persona and led to more tenderhearted roles, like the hermit who aids George Lucas' cuddly Ewoks in the TV feature "Ewoks: The Battle for Endor" (ABC, 1985). Brimley graduated to regular series work, playing kindly grandfather Gus Witherspoon, who dispenses wisdom to his daughter-in-law's children (Shannen Doherty and Chad Allen) on the well-regarded, but ultimately short-lived family series "Our House." Brimley also spun his newfound status as Hollywood's Favorite Curmudgeon into a series of television ads for Quaker Oats cereal, which reportedly surged in sales as a result of his appearance. The spots, which hinged on Brimley's admonition to eat the cereal because it was the "right thing to do and the tasty way to do it," were lampooned - often mercilessly - by television and radio comics.

When Brimley's popularity started to peter out in the early 1990s, he wisely shifted to playing stern heavies, like the security chief in "The Firm" (1993). After a supporting role in "My Fellow Americans" (1996), he enjoyed a brief comic turn as Kevin Kline's bewildered father in "In and Out" (1997). But for the most part, Brimley spent the remainder of his career appearing in television movies and independent features. In 2001, he returned to the stage in an off-Broadway production of the venerable play by Robert E. Sherwood, "The Petrified Forest." Brimley also enjoyed wide exposure from a series of ads for Liberty Medical, which sold supplies for testing diabetes on daytime television ads. Himself suffering from diabetes, Brimley became the company's official spokesperson in 1999. Like his ads for Quaker Oats, he found himself the target of numerous jibes and spoofs from comics, who fixated on his folksy pronunciation of the disease as "dya-beet-us."

VIEW THE FULL BIOGRAPHY

Filmographyclose complete filmography

CAST: (feature film)

2.
 Ballad of Lucy Whipple, The (2001) Scraggs
3.
 Crossfire Trail (2001) Joe Gill
4.
 Brigham City (2001) Sheriff Stu
5.
 Place to Grow, A (1998)
6.
 Progeny (1998) Dr David Kelly
7.
 Summer of the Monkeys (1998) Grandpa Sam Ferens
8.
 In & Out (1997) Frank Brackett
9.
 Chapter Perfect (1996) Chief Danny Hawkins
10.
 My Fellow Americans (1996) Joe Hollis
VIEW THE FULL FILMOGRAPHY

Milestones close milestones

1940:
Moved to California at the age of six
:
Dropped out of school to serve in Marines during the Korean War
:
After Korea, drifted though the western states working as a ranch hand, blacksmith and wrangler
:
Spent three years in the late 1950s as a bodyguard for Howard Hughes
:
Shoed horses for stables that furnished animals for movie and TV Westerns
:
Moved to Idaho
1965:
Returned to Los Angeles; became a riding extra for Westerns
:
Befriended by actor Robert Duvall who urged him to pursue acting as a career
:
Received Screen Actors Guild card for work as stuntman
1969:
Film debut, an uncredited bit part in "True Grit"
1971:
Credited as Bill Brimley for movie role in "Lawman"
1974:
Landed recurring role on CBS series "The Waltons"
:
Was founding member of Los Angeles Actors Theater
1976:
TV-movie debut in "The Oregon Trail" (NBC)
1979:
Breakthrough supporting role as the plant foreman in "The China Syndrome"
1984:
Played Robert Redford's reluctant baseball manager in "The Natural"
1984:
Portrayed disillusioned farm patriarch in "Country"
1985:
Delivered memorable performance as leader of spunky senior citizens in Ron Howard's "Cocoon"
1986:
Co-starred on NBC comedy drama series "Our House"
1989:
Portrayed Gov. Lew Wallace (author of "Ben Hur") in "Gore Vidal's 'Billy the Kid'" (TNT)
:
Parlayed his folksey down-home image into job as spokesperson for Quaker Oats
1993:
In a departure from type, gave an outstanding performance as the sinister head of security in "The Firm"
1996:
Reunited with good friend Robert Duvall for a sixth time in the feature "My Fellow Americans"
1997:
Appeared as Kevin Kline's father and Debbie Reynolds' husband in Frank Oz's comedy "In & Out"
1998:
Acted in the PBS aired production "All My Friends Are Cowboys"
2001:
Co-starred in the CBS movie "The Ballad of Lucy Whipple"
2001:
Played a sheriff in "Brigham City"
2001:
Starred in an off-Broadway revival of "The Petrified Forest"
2004:
Released an album of jazz standards titled <i>This Time, the Dream's on Me</i>
2009:
Cast alongside Sarah Jessica Parker and Hugh Grant in "Did You Hear About the Morgans?"
VIEW ALL MILESTONES

Notes

"I announced to the world that I was an actor and then didn't work for eight years." --Wilford Brimley, quoted throughout the years in multiple PR profiles

Companions close complete companion listing

wife:
Lynne Brimley. Married in 1956.

Family close complete family listing

son:
Jim Brimley.
son:
John Brimley.
son:
Bill Brimley.

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