If you bring up the name Wilford Brimley to people, they will probably mention a myriad of references that they connect him to. Whether it be movies, television shows, commercials, public service announcements or his persona, Brimley has made an indelible mark on the entertainment industry.
Born in Salt Lake City, Utah in 1934, Brimley dropped out of high school and enlisted in the United States Marine Corps in 1953. He spent his entire time in the fleet stationed at the Aleutian Islands in Alaska and reached the rank of Sergeant before being honorably discharged in 1956.
After leaving the service, Brimley worked a variety of interesting jobs and worked for some pretty interesting people. For a time, he was a bodyguard of business tycoon Howard Hughes. He then worked various jobs as a blacksmith, ranch hand and cattle wrangler before ending up working with horses on Hollywood sets for Westerns. His friendship with actor Robert Duval is what pushed Brimley into moving from behind the camera to in front of it. He appeared in “True Grit” with John Wayne, the TV show “Kung Fu,” and had several appearances on “The Waltons.” By the end of the 70s, he was starring in “The China Syndrome” and on his way.
His breakthrough came during the 80s. He starred in the cult classic, “The Thing,” and then moved onto the two roles that would define his career. First he was in “The Natural” with Robert Redford and then starred in the role of a lifetime, in “Cocoon.” Although he was only 49(!) at the time and about 20 years younger than the other actors in the retirement community that somehow find a magical fountain of youth, Brimley had aged too much to make himself look much older. Star Wars fans remember that he also starred in one of the TV specials where he paired up with the Ewoks in “The Battle of Endor.”
The 90s brought Brimley to even more audiences. His turn as the evil security manager in “The Firm” hunting down Tom Cruise was memorable as was his roles in “My Fellow Americans” and “In & Out.” On television, he had a memorable turn as the Postmaster General of the United States on the hit show “Seinfeld.”
Outside of TV and movies, Brimley also was known as a very successful pitchman. He was the face of Quaker Oats where he told many Americans that, “It’s the right thing to do and the tasty way to do it.” He was also a pitchman for Liberty Mutual Insurance for many years. Although his pronunciation of the word diabetes later made its way into becoming an internet meme, Brimley did have type 2 diabetes and made it a mission to use his celebrity to educate the public on getting tested and taking care of yourself if you were diabetic.
In addition to acting, Brimley was also known as a singer and musician. He famously surprised the audience during a taping of the “Craig Ferguson Show” with his harmonica skills.
Wilford Brimley, thank you for your service to our country and for the many years of entertainment that you gave us.
This article originally appeared on We Are The Mighty
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