Movies | August 2, 2020 11:16 am

Wilford Brimley, Iconic Character Actor, Dead at 85

Highlights from his career included roles in "Cocoon," "The Thing" and "Hard Target"

Wilford Brimley In 'Absence Of Malice'
Wilford Brimley in a scene from 'Absence of Malice.'
Silver Screen Collection/Getty Images

For generations of film and television viewers, Wilford Brimley — who died on Saturday at the age of 85 — was a ubiquitous presence. As an actor, he appeared in acclaimed films like Cocoon and Absence of Malice; he also starred in a series of ads for Quaker Oatmeal and was a spokesperson for the American Diabetes Association.

Brimley’s early life included a stint in the Marines, working briefly as a bodyguard for Howard Hughes and time spent as a stuntman. His first major film role was opposite Jack Lemmon and Jane Fonda in The China Syndrome. What followed was a career that included plenty of gruff mentor figures (as in Cocoon and The Natural). He worked with director Sydney Pollack multiple times, including notable roles in The Firm and Absence of Malice.

Pollack wasn’t the only acclaimed director with whom Brimley worked over the course of his career. The New York Times cites his Cocoon director Ron Howard, who noted that Brimley improvised many of his scenes in the film. Brimley also played a crucial role in John Carpenter’s horror/science fiction classic The Thing.

Brimley also became an unlikely action hero via his role in John Woo’s Hard Target. One particular action setpiece from that film has also led to numerous memes featuring Brimley, on horseback, riding away from an explosion, his bow raised triumphantly overhead.

Besides his acting work, Brimley was also a talented musician, recording several albums over the years. His was a paradoxical career: several of his most iconic roles, including Cocoon, involved him playing a character decades older than he was at the time. (He was 49 when cast in Cocoon.) That created the impression for many viewers that Brimley was ageless. His was a more unexpected career than one might first presume, and his roles offer a fascinating survey of American film over the course of many decades.

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