Wilford Brimley died at 85, remembered for his role in Cocoon

Wilford Brimley, character actor recognized for his role in the remembered Cocoon, died this Saturday at the age of 85 for complications caused by diabetes that he suffered for years.

Brimley, whom many will recognize for his lush mustache and his portrayals of tough-looking men with barely hidden tenderness, was born in 1934 and came to acting in a rather unique way. A member of the navy during the Korean War, on his return to the United States he worked in the stables where the horses used in movie and TV westerns rested. He was a blacksmith, trainer, rodeo rider and bodyguard for Howard Hughes.


Brimley in Absence of Malice

When his project to become a rancher in Idaho didn't work in the 1960s, Brimley returned to California where he began working as an extra in film and TV on shows like The law of the revolver and Bonanza, always in need of actors who knew how to mount.

"We used to ride, they gave us a wig, they put makeup on us and we were the Indians who ran from the soldiers to the hill. Then they gave us the uniforms of the soldiers and we persecuted ourselves," said the interpreter a few years ago when he also remembered that was Robert Duvall the one he met in one of those television westerns, the one who encouraged him to dare to act. Fascinated by his friend's talent, Brimley decided to give it a try but for nearly a decade Hollywood paid little attention to it.

In the seventies, television roles in series such as Kung Fu -where he played a blacksmith- and The Waltons. Cinema appeared at the end of the decade with films like China syndrome and The electric rider, by Sidney Pollack with whom he would return to work years later in Lack of malice and The Firm: Facade, in which he played one of the few villains of his career. Accustomed to seeing him as the good-natured country man, the cowboy of few words but embodied wisdom, that role demonstrated Brimley's talent.

"Wilford Brimley was a real being: a real cowboy, a great actor, a wonderful man. I will miss you, Will. Rest in peace," John Carpenter said on Twitter. The legendary filmmaker had directed it in the horror film The enigma of another world.

After playing the baseball coach in The best, the Barry Levinson movie starring Robert Redford and finally sharing the screen as an actor with his friend Duvall in The price of happiness, Brimley got the role that made him famous. At 51 he was one of the protagonists of Cocoon, that tender film that combined comedy, science fiction and family drama directed by Ron Howard.

There, with castmates like Don Ameche (who won an Oscar for best supporting actor for this role), Hume Cronyn, and Jessica Tandy, Brimley played Ben Luckett, one of the retirees who lived in a nursing home who discovers a luck of extraterrestrial youth fountain and the possibility to start again.


Wilford Brimley
Wilford Brimley Source: AFP

He then starred in his own television series, Our House, who took advantage of his brand "America's grandfather" to tell the story of a retired widower who begins to live with his daughter-in-law and granddaughters after the death of his son.

"Too many people, too congested and too fast," Brimley of Los Angeles and Hollywood said by extension. Although he worked regularly on film and TV, the actor preferred country life in his Utah streak. Of course, his distrust and discomfort in the audiovisual industry did not prevent him from enjoying some of his privileges. According to his own account, when in 1977 he spent a few days in Los Angeles after spending some time in a haras in Denver, he cast for China syndrome, movie starring Jack Lemmon, Jane Fonda and Michael Douglas.

"The first time I saw Jack Lemmon was in his office. It didn't cross my mind that I had a chance to work with him. What I wanted was his autograph."

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