Wilford Brimley, beloved entertainer and star of ‘Cocoon,’ is dead 85

Image: 20th Century Fox/Kobal/Shutterstock

By Adam Rosenberg

Wilford Brimley, whose work as an actor and as a spokesperson for the American Diabetes Association made him a transgenerational favorite, is dead at 85.

Brimley died on Saturday morning, his manager Lynda Bensky confirmed to Mashable. He was in intensive care at the time, receiving dialysis treatments and dealing with unspecified medical problems. He is survived by his wife Beverly and his four children.

“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.”

Brimley left a memorable mark on Hollywood in a career that spanned almost 50 years. He was perhaps best known for his work in Cocoon and The Natural, but he also memorably appeared in a range of classics, from cult favorites like Remo Williams: The Adventure Begins to blockbuster thrillers like The Firm (opposite Tom Cruise).

He was also a surprise guest on Seinfeld in 1997, appearing as a menacing Postmaster General, and a kind-hearted hermit in the made-for-television Star Wars classic, Ewoks: Battle for Endor. It was a full career, with many more appearances on TV and film – including a breakout role on The Waltons.

Acting was just one of Brimley’s talents, however. The former Marine was also a singer and harmonica player, and he worked a variety of different non-acting jobs – including, in a wild twist, as a bodyguard for Howard Hughes.

Brimley’s lasting presence in Hollywood eventually afforded him opportunities as a spokesperson. He was well known for a long time as the face of Quaker Oats, and he was an ardent proponent of diabetes education who appeared in multiple public service announcements after receiving a diagnosis of his own in 1979. 

Those PSAs eventually became a popular meme due to Brimley’s dialectical pronunciation of “diabetes” (and he always seemed to have a good sense of humor about it). He was also the inspiration for the Brimley/Cocoon Line, a popular Twitter feed premised around this idea, per their profile:

When ‘Cocoon’ reached theaters on June 21, 1985, Wilford Brimley was 18,530 days old. This account makes note of people who have reached that age. 

After news of Brimley’s death broke late on Saturday night, the actor’s friends, supporters, and fans stepped up to pay tribute to a life and career well-lived.

Wilford Brimley was a wonderful man and actor.

I had the great pleasure of working with him. He always made me laugh. https://t.co/kkWWr6FAYx

— Barbara Hershey (@BarbaraHershey8) August 2, 2020

RIP Wilford Brimley – so many great performances, but I’ll never forget seeing him sing this surprisingly tender “It’s Not Easy Being Green” https://t.co/xdvh9qGhMj

— Stephen Colbert (@StephenAtHome) August 2, 2020

We loved @RealWilfordB’s work and we’re heartbroken to hear of his passing. We were so honored that he was amused by what we do here. The Line wouldn’t have been worth mentioning if he weren’t so good at making us believe in his characters. He was great, and irreplaceable. ❤️ pic.twitter.com/3ZW3CFn3ni

— Brimley/Cocoon Line (@BrimleyLine) August 2, 2020

My heart is saddened at the loss of acting legend #WilfordBrimley. Always a comforting voice and tireless advocate for diabetes education. We had in common “The Thing” (my poster / his acting). I always enjoyed interacting with him here on Twitter. He will be greatly missed. pic.twitter.com/mq6h2DaEyH

— Drew Struzan (@DrewStruzan) August 2, 2020

And of course, there’s this absolutely legendary final tweet.

Rest in peace, Wilford Brimley.

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