Wilford Brimley, a longtime character actor famous for his role in "Cocoon" and as a TV pitchman, died Saturday at a hospital in St. George, Utah. He was 85.
TMZ reports that Brimley, who had lived with diabetes since 1979, had spent the past few weeks in poor health and on dialysis.
Brimley was born September 27, 1934, in Salt Lake City. After a stint in the Marines — and a spell as a bodyguard for Howard Hughes — he worked his way into the film industry as an extra and then as a stuntman, maintaining close ties to his fellow stuntmen for the rest of his life.
Appearing mainly in westerns at first with the support of his actor friend Robert Duvall, he gained exposure as Horace in seven appearances on TV's "The Waltons" (1974-1977). He made his credited film debut in the hit thriller "The China Syndrome" (1979) and was memorable in "Absence of Malice" (1981), establishing himself as a go-to for curmudgeonly characters.
After juicy roles in "The Thing" (1982), "Tender Mercies" (1983), and "The Natural" (1984), Brimley made his most lasting impression in "Cocoon" (1985) as Ben Luckett, the ringleader of a group of renegade citizens of a retirement home who discover a pool that makes them feel like kids again.
Brimley was only 50 years old during filming, compared to some of his far older, Hollywood-legend co-stars, like Don Ameche (76), Jessica Tandy (75), and Hume Cronyn (73). Brian Dennehy, who played an alien in the film, died in April.
After a successful run on TV in "Our House" with Deidre Hall, Shannen Doherty and Chad Allen, he reprised the role of Ben in "Cocoon: The Return" (1988) and scored with a rare performance as a villain in the Tom Cruise hit "The Firm" (1993).
Brimley continued his crotchety brand on a 1997 "Seinfeld" episode as a tough Postmaster General, was in the TV movie "Crossfire" (2001) and the romantic thriller "Did You Hear About the Morgans?" (2009), and mostly stuck to independent films thereafter.
Late in his life, Brimley became the face of Quaker Oats and Liberty Medical.
Though not famous for it, he was also a talented jazz vocalist and harmonica player. He even released an album of jazz standards, "This Time, the Dream's On Me" (2004).
Brimley is survived by his second wife, Beverly, and three sons.