For years he was pitchman for Quaker Oats and in recent years appeared in a series of diabetes spots that turned him at one point into a social media sensation.
“Wilford Brimley was a man you could trust,” Bensky said in a statement. “He said what he meant and he meant what he said. He had a tough exterior and a tender heart. I’m sad that I will no longer get to hear my friend’s wonderful stories. He was one of a kind.”
Barbara Hershey, who met Brimley on 1995′s “Last of the Dogmen,” called him “a wonderful man and actor. ... He always made me laugh.”
Though never nominated for an Oscar or Emmy Award, Brimley amassed an impressive list of credits. In 1993’s John Grisham adaptation “The Firm,” Brimley starred opposite Tom Cruise as a tough-nosed investigator who deployed ruthless tactics to keep his law firm’s secrets safe.
John Woo, who directed Brimley as Uncle Douvee in 1993′s “Hard Target,” told The Hollywood Reporter in 2018 that the part was “the main great thing from the film. I was overjoyed making those scenes and especially working with Wilford Brimley.”
A Utah native who grew up around horses, Brimley spent two decades traveling around the West and working at ranches and race tracks. He drifted into movie work during the 1960s, riding in such films as “True Grit,” and appearing in TV series such as “Gunsmoke."
He forged a friendship with Robert Duvall, who encouraged him to seek more prominent acting roles, according to a biography prepared by Turner Classic Movies.
Brimley, who never trained as an actor, saw his career take off after he won an important role as a nuclear power plant engineer in “The China Syndrome.”
“Training? I’ve never been to acting classes, but I’ve had 50 years of training,” he said in a 1984 Associated Press interview. “My years as an extra were good background for learning about camera techniques and so forth. I was lucky to have had that experience; a lot of newcomers don’t."
“Basically my method is to be honest,” Brimley said told AP. “The camera photographs the truth — not what I want it to see, but what it sees. The truth.”
Brimley had a recurring role as a blacksmith on “The Waltons” and the 1980s prime-time series “Our House.”
Another side of the actor was his love of jazz. As a vocalist, he made albums including “This Time the Dream’s On Me” and “Wilford Brimley with the Jeff Hamilton Trio.”
In 1998, he opposed an Arizona referendum to ban cockfighting, saying that he was "trying to protect a lifestyle of freedom and choice for my grandchildren.”
In recent years, Brimley's pitchwork for Liberty Medical had turned him into an internet sensation for his drawn out pronunciation of diabetes as "diabeetus." He owned the pronunciation in a tweet that drew hundreds of thousands of likes earlier this year.
Brimley is survived by his wife Beverly and three sons.
AP Entertainment Writer Anthony McCartney contributed to this report.
This story has corrected a reference to Liberty Medical.
FILE - In this Jan. 4, 2008, file photo, Republican presidential hopeful, Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., left, introduces actor, Wilford Brimley, after making a reference to fellow Republican presidential hopeful, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, campaigning with actor Chuck Norris, as McCain makes a campaign stop at Hudson Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 5791, in Hudson, N.H. Brimley, who worked his way up from stunt performer to star of film such as “Cocoon” and “The Natural,” has died. He was 85. Brimley’s manager Lynda Bensky said the actor died Saturday morning, Aug. 1, 2020 in a Utah hospital. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak, File)
Credit: Charles Dharapak
Credit: Charles Dharapak