Wilford Brimley

Anthony Wilford Brimley (born September 27, 1934)[1] is an American actor and singer.[2] After serving in the Marines and doing a variety of jobs including ranch hand and wrangler, Brimley became an extra for Westerns, and in little more than a decade he had established himself as a character actor in films such as The China Syndrome (1979), The Thing (1982) and The Natural (1984). His trademark mustache, accent and brusque delivery made Brimley recognizable, but forthrightness on screen was on occasion matched by bluntness on set when his interpretation of a character was being faulted. Brimley's weather-beaten appearance enabled him to be convincing as someone decades older in the film Cocoon (1985).

Wilford Brimley
Brimley in October, 2012
Anthony Wilford Brimley

(1934-09-27) September 27, 1934
Salt Lake City, Utah, U.S.
ResidenceGreybull, Wyoming, U.S.
Santa Clara, Utah, U.S.
OccupationActor, singer
Years active1969–present
Lynne Bagley
(m. 1956; died 2000)

Beverly Berry (m. 2007)

Brimley was the long-time face of television advertisements for the Quaker Oats Company.[3] He has also promoted diabetes education and appeared in related commercials for Liberty Medical.

Early life

Brimley was born in Salt Lake City, Utah, on September 27, 1934,[3] where his father worked as a real estate broker.[4] Prior to his career in acting, Brimley dropped out of high school to serve in the United States Marine Corps, where he served in the Aleutian Islands for three years. He also worked as a bodyguard for Howard Hughes,[5] a ranch hand, a wrangler, and a blacksmith.[1] He then began shoeing horses for film and television. He began acting in the 1960s as a riding extra in Westerns and a stunt man at the urging of his friend, actor Robert Duvall.[6]

Brimley married his first wife, the former Lynne Bagley, on July 6, 1956. They had four sons together (James Charles, John Michael, William Carmen and Lawrence Dean) and several grandchildren. Brimley and Lynne were married until her death in June 2000.[7]

Brimley married Beverly Berry on October 31, 2007.[8] Together they have lived in Greybull, Wyoming and Santa Clara, Utah. In 2009, they founded nonprofit organization Hands Across the Saddle (HATS) in the Big Horn Basin.[9]


Brimley's onscreen breakthrough came when he was cast in the popular 1970s television series The Waltons as Walton's Mountain resident Horace Brimley; he made seven appearances between 1974 and 1977.

His first credited feature film performance was in The China Syndrome (1979) as Ted Spindler, a friend and coworker of plant shift supervisor Jack Godell (portrayed by Jack Lemmon). Later, Brimley made a brief, but pivotal, appearance in Absence of Malice (1981) as the curmudgeonly, outspoken Assistant U.S. Attorney James A. Wells. He expanded on this cantankerous persona as Pop Fisher, world-weary manager of a slumping baseball team, in The Natural (1984). Shortly thereafter, Brimley secured his first leading role in Ron Howard's Cocoon (1985), portraying Ben Luckett, leader of a group of geriatrics who encounter a magically reinvigorating swimming pool by their retirement home.

Brimley's close friend Robert Duvall (who also appeared in The Natural) was instrumental in securing for him the role of Harry in Tender Mercies (1983). Duvall, who had not been getting along with director Bruce Beresford, wanted "somebody down here that's on my side, somebody that I can relate to."[10] Beresford felt Brimley was too old for the part, but eventually agreed to the casting. Brimley, like Duvall, clashed with the director; during one instance when Beresford tried to advise Brimley on how Harry would behave, Duvall recalled Brimley responding: "Now look, let me tell you something, I'm Harry. Harry's not over there, Harry's not over here. Until you fire me or get another actor, I'm Harry, and whatever I do is fine 'cause I'm Harry."[10]

Through these and other early roles, Brimley became widely known for portraying gruff or stodgy old men, most notably on the 1980s drama series Our House, also starring Deidre Hall, Chad Allen and Shannen Doherty. However, he made a change from such "good guy" roles when he played William Devasher, sinister head of security for the Bendini, Lambert & Locke law firm, in the Tom Cruise film The Firm (1993) (based on the novel by John Grisham).

After portraying the father of Kevin Kline in In & Out (1997), Brimley retreated from Hollywood in favor of involvement in more independent productions. He made an auspicious mainstream comeback with the TNT film Crossfire Trail (2001), co-starring with Tom Selleck (whom he had previously worked with in the '80s film High Road to China). He played an intimidating US Postmaster General in a 1997 episode of Seinfeld (The Junk Mail), who forces Kramer to end his boycott of the mail service. After several more years of independent film and TV acting, Brimley had a supporting role in Did You Hear About The Morgans? (2009), making witty exchanges with star Hugh Grant.

Brimley has frequently appeared in commercials, notably a series of commercials for Quaker Oats[6] Oatmeal throughout the 1980s and 1990s. The Quaker commercials were famous for their slogan: "It's the right thing to do and the tasty way to do it." Brimley is also known for appearing in numerous television advertisements for Liberty Medical, a company specializing in home delivery of medical products such as diabetes testing supplies. He was also the voice-over for a Bryan Foods television commercial campaign, which was created by the New York advertising agency Ally & Gargano, written by A & G group creative director Peter Hoffman, and directed by long-time Hollywood director Howard Zieff.

Brimley has been described as "a fine singer with a warm, rich voice."[11] In 1993, Brimley sang with the Cal State Northridge Jazz Band for a concert benefiting the college's Jazz Endowment Scholarship Fund; in 2004, he released This Time, The Dream's On Me, an album of jazz standards named after the Harold Arlen and Johnny Mercer-penned title track.[11][12] He is also an accomplished harmonica player; during his 2011 appearance on The Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson, Brimley performed a lively rendition of "Oh! Susanna" much to the delight, and surprise, of Ferguson and the studio audience.[13]

The Brimley/Cocoon Line

Brimley's role as a senior citizen in the 1985 film Cocoon, when he was just 50 years of age, has drawn attention among movie fans. The Brimley/Cocoon Line has become an internet meme, representing the age of Brimley, in days, on the day of the theatrical release of the film, June 21, 1985. On that date, he was 18,530 days old.[14]. "Crossing the Brimley/Cocoon Line" means being older than Brimley was on that date.[15]

Personal life

Diagnosed with diabetes mellitus in 1979, he began working to raise awareness of the disease. The American Diabetes Association (ADA) honored Brimley in 2008 with an award to recognize his lifetime of service.[16] The ADA presented the award to him at the Port St. Lucie headquarters of Liberty Medical on December 19, 2008.[17] He has visited Veterans Administration hospitals and communities to advise patients on how to manage their diseases. His talks about diabetes have become an internet phenomenon and a meme due to Brimley's pronunciation of "diabetes" as "diabeetus" and his overall serious tone.[18]

Brimley has supported advertisements to have Utah allow horse-race gambling.[19] He spoke against the banning of cockfighting in New Mexico on the basis of his support of individual rights.[20] Brimley also spoke at a 1998 Phoenix rally opposing an Arizona ballot proposition to ban cockfighting. Brimley argued that a ban could lead to efforts to restrict use of hunting dogs, which opponents of cockfighting called a distraction from the issue.[21] Brimley enjoys playing poker[22] and has played in the World Series of Poker Main Event.[23] Brimley lent his support to John McCain in the 2008 U.S. presidential election.[24] In the days leading up to his selection for vice president, McCain jokingly stated that he would pick Brimley: "He's a former Marine and great guy and he's older than I am, so that might work."[25]

Brimley has resided in Greybull, Wyoming, and Santa Clara, Utah, since 2006.[26] Brimley is a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.[27]



Year Title Role Notes
1968Bandolero!Stuntman (uncredited)
1969True GritUncredited
1971LawmanMarc CormanUncredited
1979The China SyndromeTed Spindler
1979The Electric HorsemanFarmer
1980BorderlineUSBP Agent Scooter Jackson
1981Absence of MaliceAssistant U.S. Attorney General James A. Wells
1982Death ValleyThe Sheriff
1982The ThingDr. Blair
1983Tender MerciesHarry
198310 to MidnightCaptain Malone
1983High Road to ChinaBradley Tozer
1983Tough EnoughBill Long
1984Harry & SonTom Keach
1984The Hotel New HampshireIowa Bob
1984The Stone BoyGeorge Jansen
1984The NaturalPop Fisher
1984Terror in the AislesArchive footage
1985CocoonBenjamin 'Ben' Luckett
1985Remo Williams: The Adventure BeginsAgency Director Harold Smith
1986JackalsSheriff Mitchell
1986Shadows on the WallFloyd Buckman
1986American JusticeSheriff Mitchell
1987End of the LineWill Haney
1988Cocoon: The ReturnBenjamin 'Ben' Luckett
1992Where the Red Fern Grows: Part IIGrandpa WillDirect-to-video
1993The FirmWilliam Devasher
1993Hard TargetUncle Douvee
1994Heaven SentAl (Security Guard)
1995Mutant SpeciesDevro
1995Last of the DogmenNarratorUncredited
1996My Fellow AmericansJoe Hollis
1997In & OutFrank Brackett
1997Lunker LakeThe Storyteller
1998Chapter PerfectChief Hawkins
1998ProgenyDr. David Wetherly
1998A Place to GrowJake
1998Summer of the MonkeysGrandpa Sam Ferrans
2001Brigham CityStu
2001PC and the Web
2002Resurrection MaryMorty
2003The Road HomeCoach Weaver
2009The Path of the WindHarry Caldwell
2009Did You Hear About the Morgans?Earl Granger
2016Timber the Treasure DogHawk Jones


Year Title Role Notes
1974–77The WaltonsHorace Brimley8 episodes
1975Kung FuHorace BrimleyEpisode: "One Step to Darkness"; as A. Wilford Brimley
1976–77The Oregon TrailLudlowEpisodes: Pilot, "Hard Ride Home"; as A. Wilford Brimley
1979The Wild Wild West RevisitedPresident Grover ClevelandTelevision film; as Wilford A. Brimley
1980Amber WavesPete AlbertsTelevision film
1980RoughnecksWillie ClaytonTelevision film
1980Rodeo GirlBingo GibbsTelevision film
1981The Big Black PillWally HaskellTelevision film; aka. Joe Dancer
1985Murder in SpaceDr. Andrew McCallisterTelevision film
1985Ewoks: The Battle for EndorNoaTelevision film
1986Thompson's Last RunRed HainesTelevision film
1986Act of VengeanceTony BoyleTelevision film
1986–88Our HouseGus Witherspoon
1989Billy the KidGov. Lew WallaceTelevision series
1991Blood RiverU.S. Marshal Winston Patrick CullerTelevision film
1992The Boys of TwilightDeputy Bill HuntoonTelevision series
1995Walker, Texas RangerBurt MuellerEpisode: "War Zone"
1995Op CenterAdmiral Troy Davis
1995The Good Old BoysC.C. TarpleyTelevision film
1997SeinfeldUnited States Postmaster General Henry AtkinsEpisode: "The Junk Mail"
2001Crossfire TrailJoe GillTelevision film
2001The Ballad of Lucy WhippleDeputy Sheriff Ambrose ScraggsTelevision film
2011The Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson' GuestLate Night Talk Show

Awards and nominations

Year Award Category Nominated work Result
1987 CableACE Awards Actor in a Movie or Miniseries Act of Vengeance Nominated
2005 Golden Boot Awards Golden Boot N/A Won
2013 Maverick Movie Awards Best Supporting Actor: Short Masque Nominated


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  4. "Wilford Brimley Biography". FilmReference.com. Retrieved June 22, 2009.
  5. Lawrence, Tom, ‘Just a feller,’ Actor Wilford Brimley reflects on long career, stars he’s known and the music he loves to sing, Powell Tribune, 20 March 2014. Retrieved 26 May 2015. "Of course, Brimley has been around a lot of famous people. He was a bodyguard for reclusive billionaire Howard Hughes, although he doesn't care to discuss that very much. "He was a good guy," he said, adding that Hughes paid him well. Hughes preferred to hire members of the Church of Latter-day Saints as aides and staffers, and Brimley himself is a member of the LDS church."
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  17. Blandford, Laurie K. (December 19, 2008). "Actor Wilford Brimley surprised with award from American Diabetes Association in Port St. Lucie". The St. Lucie News-Tribune. TCPalm. Retrieved June 22, 2009.
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