Run to your kitchen now, pull out a carton of Quaker Oats, and then pour it out. Because Wilford Brimley, prolific actor, one of diabetes’ greatest nemesis, and the 80s and 90s King of Quaker Oats, died yesterday morning at a hospital in St. George, Utah. A rep for Wilford Brimley tells Deadline that he was in a bad way for a few days and was on dialysis. He was 85.
Wilford Brimley (born name: Anthony Wilford Brimley) was born in Salt Lake City, Utah, and after serving in the Marines for three years, he got a job as a bodyguard to Howard Hughes and did that along with working as a ranch hand, blacksmith, and wrangler. That led to Wilford caring for the hooves of horses who were used in TV and movies, and that led to Wilford becoming friends with Robert DuVall, and that led to Robert recognizing that Wilford needed to be in front of the camera. And so Wilford took that advice.
Wilford did stunts in westerns before landing a recurring role on The Waltons. His first big movie role was in 1979’s The China Syndrome with Jack Lemmon. Wilford was in a few more movies, including Absence of Malice, before he showed a computer what’s what as Blair in John Carpenter’s The Thing in 1982.
Wilford starred with his friend Robert DuVall in two movies of the 80s: 1983’s Tender Mercies and 1984’s The Natural. And since Wilford was one of those special kinds who seemed to have come out of the womb as a gentle and grouchy grandpa, he was cast as the leader of the olds in 1985’s Cocoon when he was just 49 years old. Wilford was 20 years younger than most of his co-stars, so he had to do himself up in pepaw cosplay by dying his hair and legendary stache grey and painting liver spots and wrinkles on his face.
Because of his roles in Cocoon and The Natural, Wilford became the go-to-actor to play the likable definitions of gruff, like in NBC’s Our House, the all-star TV series which also starred Deirdre Hall, Shannen Doherty, and Chad Allen. But in the 90s, he broke away from those grumpy grandpa roles when he caused Tom Cruise’s heels to rattle with fear as a blackmailing hitman in The Firm.
Throughout his long career, Wilford was also in Cocoon: The Return, Hard Target, In & Out, Did You Hear About The Morgans?, The Oregon Trail, Act of Vengeance, Walker, Texas Ranger, and of course, Seinfeld:
Since I’m a child of the 80s, I know Wilford Brimley best as Ben in Cocoon, and also as the face of Quaker Oats. In the 80s and 90s, Wilford was everyone’s commercial time grandpa who spit out oatmeal-flavored facts about Quaker Oats before telling us lazy brats to get off the couch and do something with our lives. (No, he never said that, but he didn’t have to! He said it with his eyes.)
Wilford was diagnosed with diabetes mellitus in 1979 and worked to spread awareness of the disease. The American Diabetes Association honored him in 2008 for his lifetime work in diabetes advocacy. Or should I say “diabeetus,” which I should because that’s how Wilford said it, which means that’s the only correct way to say it! Wilford educated us on the correct way to say diabeetus when he starred in commercials for Liberty Medical:
Those commercials turned Wilford into a meme, and he was a good sport about it and embraced his title as the “diabeetus guy.”
Ellie, no. I am the “diabeetus” guy. https://t.co/ZsJrviWrwT
— Wilford Brimley (@RealWilfordB) February 3, 2020
Wilford wasn’t only an actor, horseman, diabeetus activist, and commercial star, he was also a musical artiste. He released a jazz album in 2004, and in 2011, he showed off his golden mouth organ-playing skills on The Late Late Show With Craig Ferguson:
Wilford is survived by his wife of 13 years, Beverly Berry, and his three sons.
Rest in peace, Wilford Brimley. You are now in heaven, where you’re making it a much more glorious place thanks to your stache, and as you do that, we’ll all check our blood sugar and check it often.