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Wilford Brimley, artisan character actor, dies at 85


After dropping out of high school to join the Marine Corps, Mr. Brimley was a bodyguard for reclusive billionaire Howard Hughes and a wrestler for the Western ranches. In the mid-1960s, he was working as a farrier shoeing horses for television westerns, and he was eventually recruited for stunts.

I became friends with a guy named Bob Duvall, he told the Los Angeles Times, referring to the then up-and-coming character actor, whom he had met on the set of Cimarron Strip in 1967 and who would continue to do so. playing famous roles in The Godfather and the Apocalypse now. I met him on one of those equestrian opera TV listings. I was fascinated by what he was able to do as an actor. I’ve never seen anything like it.

Soon after, Mr Brimley went from stunts to action on the advice of a colleague who told him it paid off better and you didn’t have to hit the ground.

With his beefy physique, country sled and overflowing mustache, he looked every inch like the prairie wanderer in the oats of the Old West like True Grit (1969) and Lawman (1971). and the drama The Electric Horseman (1979), with Robert Redford as a rodeo rider over the hill.

He also had memorable supporting roles as a nuclear power plant worker in The China Syndrome (1979) opposite Jack Lemmon. And with his tinted metal-rimmed glasses, he excelled as speaking authority figures, including in Brubaker (1980) as a member of the prison board and in the journalistic legal thriller Absence of Malice (1981). ) as Assistant Attorney General of the United States.

His career has reached a new level Tender mercy (1983), in which he played a music director forced to deliver hard truths about the business to failed alcoholic country singer Duvalls. The following year Mr. Brimley played cynical baseball manager Pop Fisher in The Natural opposite Redford in the title role and Duvall as a corrupt sports writer.

Richard Farnsworth, a close friend of Mr. Brimleys, who had a similar debut in the films as a stuntman, was also in Natural, and their low-key chemistry made for a realistic scene where each character tries to guess which song the other is whistling.

We have played this song for 25 years. It was not part of the script, Mr. Brimley said in the Powell Tribune (Wyo.). Not at all, not at all, we were just killing time.

Her biggest screen success was Cocoon (1985), director Ron Howards pleaser with Maureen Stapleton, Don Ameche, Jessica Tandy, and Hume Cronyn about nursing home residents being rejuvenated with alien technology. Mr. Brimley had a moving farewell sequence while fishing with his grandson. By thoroughbred, he told the Salt Lake Tribune, with a rare flash of raw pride, that this was the best fucking scene in the picture.

He reprized his role in the sequel Cocoon: The Return (1988) and appeared in action films such as The company (1993), in which he starred, counter-type, a secret law firm blackmailing the security chief opposite Tom Cruises’ lawyer. He has also appeared in comedies including My Fellow Americans (1996) with James Garner and Lemmon as former presidents.

On television, Mr. Brimley had a recurring role in The Waltons in the 1970s, then starred in the NBC drama series Our House from 1986 to 1988 as the obnoxious grandfather who takes on his widowed stepdaughter and her children. three children. He also appeared on Seinfeld in 1997 as rustic but threatening general manager of the American postal services which forces Kramer to end his boycott of mail delivery.

With an undisguised dislike of Hollywood, Mr. Brimley preferred to live on his properties in Santa Clara, Utah, and Greybull, Wyo., Leaving every now and then to make a movie or, in one of his favorite sidelines. , sing and sometimes record Tin Pan Alley standards with a jazz combo.

Mr. Brimley also became a television set through his work as a folk pitchman for Quaker oats cereals and Liberty Medical, a mail-order supplier of diabetes screening supplies. Mr Brimley suffered from the disease and said he spoke publicly about his condition because too many people had diabetes, and they deny it. They think there is something to be ashamed of.

Its commercials invite parody, including a Saturday Night Live skit starring John Goodman as Mr. Brimley. In Goodmans sendup, Mr. Brimley fakes diabetes (I look like someone who has it) and throws a lot of Reddi-wip whipped cream in his mouth. He also hates oats (it always seems like someone else ate them first).

You can accept that or let it bother you, Mr Brimley said cheerfully of the ribs. I accept it.

Anthony Wilford Brimley, the son of a real estate broker and piano teacher, was born in Salt Lake City on September 27, 1934 and raised in Santa Monica, California. He left school in eighth grade and, after years of ranch roaming, tried again, years later in Salt Lake City.

I was a terrible student, he told the Salt Lake Tribune. I just couldn’t bear to be locked inside. I tried to go from eighth to twelfth in one jump. It didn’t work, so I gave up again. He served in the Marine Corps during the Korean War and was based in the Aleutian Islands.

His first wife, former Lynne Bagley, died in 2000. In 2007, he married Beverly Berry, who survives with three sons from his first marriage, James, John and William. A son, Lawrence, died in infancy.

After meeting Duvall, who remained a close friend for years, Mr. Brimley joined a Los Angeles theater group to formally train. But the theater, he told The Times, has turned into a great power struggle. They had committees and officials and I just said, forget it. I do not want it anymore.

He experienced similar frustrations during the realization of the Waltons. When the producer appeared to dismiss Mr Brimleys’ concerns about his character, the actor requested to be excluded from the show, anticipating his plan to leave the theater and return to the mountains.

In a career that has taken many twists and turns, Mr. Brimley returned to show business in 1977 after passing through Los Angeles while transporting horses to Denver. He decided to audition for a role in The China Syndrome. He joked that he did the audition primarily to get an autograph from co-star Lemmons, but he reluctantly admitted to finding a way to satisfy his wandering mind in the performance.

It’s the biggest hideout I know of, he told The Times. I am able to put on these clothes and use that name and words and then speak the truth about myself.

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