Wilford Brimley

Wilford Brimley


Also Known As
A Wilford Brimley, A Wilfred Brimley, Bill Brimley
Birth Place
Salt Lake City, Utah, USA
September 27, 1934


The actor of choice to play gruff, but lovable grandfathers, old salts and dispensers of sage advice in the 1980s, Wilford Brimley was a former real-life ranch hand who worked his way up the Hollywood food chain from stunt rider and extra to popular character actor and television pitchman. On the advice of friend Robert Duvall, Brimley set his course down the acting path and earned his b...

Family & Companions

Lynne Brimley
Married in 1956.


The actor of choice to play gruff, but lovable grandfathers, old salts and dispensers of sage advice in the 1980s, Wilford Brimley was a former real-life ranch hand who worked his way up the Hollywood food chain from stunt rider and extra to popular character actor and television pitchman. On the advice of friend Robert Duvall, Brimley set his course down the acting path and earned his big break in "The China Syndrome" (1979). By the mid-1980s, Brimley was adding old-fashioned grit and homespun charm to high-profile pictures like "The Natural" (1984), "Cocoon" (1985) and "The Firm" (1993), as well as on the primetime series "Our House" (NBC, 1986-88). His profile lessened in subsequent years, though his avuncular presence was well used in a series of ads for Quaker Oats and the Liberty Medical supply company, keeping fresh his distinctly whiskered visage to audiences.

Born on Sept. 27, 1934 in Salt Lake City, UT, Brimley was the son of a real estate broker, who moved the family to California when his son was six years old. Brimley dropped out of high school to join the Marines during the Korean War, serving three years in the Aleutian Islands. After an honorable discharge, Brimley worked as a ranch hand, wrangler and blacksmith throughout the Western states, then spent three years as bodyguard to Howard Hughes. When he returned to California, he found work at stables that provided horses for film and television projects, but soon after lit out again to work as a cowboy in Idaho. He eventually returned to Los Angeles to find work as a riding extra and stunt man in Hollywood Westerns like "Bandolero!" (1968).

During this period, Brimley struck a friendship with Robert Duvall, who encouraged him to become an actor. Brimley eventually logged enough hours as a stunt man to earn his Screen Actors Guild card and soon landed small parts in "True Grit" (1969) and "Lawman" (1971). Brimley was frequently credited as "A. Wilford Brimley" in his early roles, a trend that continued until the mid-1980s. In 1974, Brimley began a recurring role on "The Waltons" (CBS, 1972-1981) as town blacksmith Horace Brimley, which lasted until 1977. His dedication to his craft impressed cast member Ralph Waite, who invited Brimley to join and train with his Los Angeles Actors Theater. Soon after, Brimley graduated to larger character roles, many of which emphasized his skill with gruff blue-color types. He earned his first spate of solid reviews as Ted Spindler, a foreman at a nuclear facility who knows that his plant suffers from safety issues, in "The China Syndrome" (1979). The film's finale afforded Brimley an emotional soliloquy which caught the eye of numerous producers and casting agents.

Brimley was soon riding high as a character actor in Hollywood features throughout the 1980s. Robert Redford employed him on several occasions, first as a farmer in "The Electric Horseman" (1979) and later in "Brubaker" (1980), before giving Brimley one of his best roles as the crusty manager of a struggling baseball farm team in Barry Levinson's "The Natural" (1984). Other solid performances came as a tough assistant attorney general in "Absence of Malice" (1981), a scientist who is driven mad by an alien presence in John Carpenter's cult classic "The Thing" (1982) and the no-nonsense manager of Robert Duvall's ex-wife (Betty Buckley) in "Tender Mercies" (1983).

Brimley's biggest hit came as one of a trio of senior citizens (alongside Don Ameche and Hume Cronyn) who discover that a hidden alien pod is also the fountain of youth in Ron Howard's "Cocoon" (1985). The role emphasized the gentler aspects of his screen persona and led to more tenderhearted roles, like the hermit who aids George Lucas' cuddly Ewoks in the TV feature "Ewoks: The Battle for Endor" (ABC, 1985). Brimley graduated to regular series work, playing kindly grandfather Gus Witherspoon, who dispenses wisdom to his daughter-in-law's children (Shannen Doherty and Chad Allen) on the well-regarded, but ultimately short-lived family series "Our House." Brimley also spun his newfound status as Hollywood's Favorite Curmudgeon into a series of television ads for Quaker Oats cereal, which reportedly surged in sales as a result of his appearance. The spots, which hinged on Brimley's admonition to eat the cereal because it was the "right thing to do and the tasty way to do it," were lampooned - often mercilessly - by television and radio comics.

When Brimley's popularity started to peter out in the early 1990s, he wisely shifted to playing stern heavies, like the security chief in "The Firm" (1993). After a supporting role in "My Fellow Americans" (1996), he enjoyed a brief comic turn as Kevin Kline's bewildered father in "In and Out" (1997). But for the most part, Brimley spent the remainder of his career appearing in television movies and independent features. In 2001, he returned to the stage in an off-Broadway production of the venerable play by Robert E. Sherwood, "The Petrified Forest." Brimley also enjoyed wide exposure from a series of ads for Liberty Medical, which sold supplies for testing diabetes on daytime television ads. Himself suffering from diabetes, Brimley became the company's official spokesperson in 1999. Like his ads for Quaker Oats, he found himself the target of numerous jibes and spoofs from comics, who fixated on his folksy pronunciation of the disease as "dya-beet-us."



Cast (Feature Film)

Timber the Treasure Dog (2016)
Did You Hear About the Morgans? (2009)
Brigham City (2001)
Sheriff Stu
The Ballad of Lucy Whipple (2001)
Crossfire Trail (2001)
A Place to Grow (1998)
Progeny (1998)
Dr David Kelly
Summer of the Monkeys (1998)
In & Out (1997)
Chapter Perfect (1996)
Chief Danny Hawkins
My Fellow Americans (1996)
Last of the Dogmen (1995)
Good Old Boys (1995)
Mutant Species (1994)
Heaven Sent (1994)
Where the Red Fern Grows, Part Two (1993)
The Firm (1993)
Hard Target (1993)
Blood River (1991)
Eternity (1990)
Billy The Kid (Gore Vidal's) (1989)
Governor Lew Wallace
Cocoon: the Return (1988)
End of the Line (1987)
Thompson's Last Run (1986)
Act Of Vengeance (1986)
American Justice (1986)
Sheriff Mitchell
Murder in Space (1985)
Ewoks: The Battle For Endor (1985)
Remo Williams: The Adventure Begins (1985)
Cocoon (1985)
Country (1984)
Harry & Son (1984)
The Stone Boy (1984)
The Hotel New Hampshire (1984)
The Natural (1984)
Tough Enough (1983)
Tender Mercies (1983)
Harry Silver
10 To Midnight (1983)
High Road to China (1983)
The Thing (1982)
The Big Black Pill (1981)
Absence Of Malice (1981)
Death Valley (1981)
Brubaker (1980)
Borderline (1980)
Rodeo Girl (1980)
Amber Waves (1980)
Pete Alberts
The Wild Wild West Revisited (1979)
President Grover Cleveland
The Electric Horseman (1979)
The China Syndrome (1979)
Oregon Trail (1976)

Cast (Special)

All My Friends Are Cowboys (1998)
The River of Doubt (1992)
Voice Of Theodore Roosevelt
Funny, You Don't Look 200 (1987)
The Firm (1983)

Cast (TV Mini-Series)

Op Center (1994)
Admiral Troy Davis
Shadows on the Wall (1986)
Floyd Buckman
Roughnecks (1980)
The Awakening Land (1978)
Jude Mcwhirter

Life Events


Moved to California at the age of six


Returned to Los Angeles; became a riding extra for Westerns


Film debut, an uncredited bit part in "True Grit"


Credited as Bill Brimley for movie role in "Lawman"


Landed recurring role on CBS series "The Waltons"


TV-movie debut in "The Oregon Trail" (NBC)


Breakthrough supporting role as the plant foreman in "The China Syndrome"


Portrayed disillusioned farm patriarch in "Country"


Played Robert Redford's reluctant baseball manager in "The Natural"


Delivered memorable performance as leader of spunky senior citizens in Ron Howard's "Cocoon"


Co-starred on NBC comedy drama series "Our House"


Portrayed Gov. Lew Wallace (author of "Ben Hur") in "Gore Vidal's 'Billy the Kid'" (TNT)


In a departure from type, gave an outstanding performance as the sinister head of security in "The Firm"


Reunited with good friend Robert Duvall for a sixth time in the feature "My Fellow Americans"


Appeared as Kevin Kline's father and Debbie Reynolds' husband in Frank Oz's comedy "In & Out"


Acted in the PBS aired production "All My Friends Are Cowboys"


Played a sheriff in "Brigham City"


Co-starred in the CBS movie "The Ballad of Lucy Whipple"


Starred in an off-Broadway revival of "The Petrified Forest"


Released an album of jazz standards titled <i>This Time, the Dream's on Me</i>


Cast alongside Sarah Jessica Parker and Hugh Grant in "Did You Hear About the Morgans?"


Movie Clip

Natural, The (1984) -- (Movie Clip) Get In The Cage After much delay, assistant coach Red (Richard Farnsworth) summons Roy Hobbs (Robert Redford) to batting practice, manager Pop (Wilford Brimley) duly attentive, in Barry Levinson's The Natural, 1984.
Natural, The (1984) -- (Movie Clip) Shoulda Been A Farmer Manager Pop (Wilford Brimley) with commentary from Bernard Malamud's original novel, assistant Red (Richard Farnsworth) supporting, meets middle aged rookie Roy Hobbs (Robert Redford), in Barry Levinson's The Natural, 1984.
Cocoon (1985) -- (Movie Clip) Open, She's Really Slipping Director Ron Howard introduces his child lead (Barret Oliver) then puts Industrial Light & Magic and much of his his acclaimed veteran cast (Wilford Brimley, Maureen Stapleton, Jessica Tandy, Hume Cronyn, Jack Gilford, Herta Ware) straight to work, opening Cocoon, 1985.
Cocoon (1985) -- (Movie Clip) You Boys Still Trespassing? Florida retirement home pals Ben (Wilford Brimley) and Art (Don Ameche) observing daily business, then joining ailing Joe (Hume Cronyn) for mischief, early in director Ron Howard's hit Cocoon, 1985.
China Syndrome, The (1979) -- (Movie Clip) Take It To One Ten As Jane Fonda’s news team struggles with whether to go with the story, Jack Lemmon as engineer Godell, with colleague Spindler (Wilford Brimley) presses supervisor Deyoung (Scott Brady) to put the reactor through a tougher stress test, after the first incident, in The China Syndrome, 1979.
China Syndrome, The (1979) -- (Movie Clip) I Don't Like Reporters Popular feature reporter Kimberly (Jane Fonda) is looking for her cameraman who's stolen the film of the nuclear plant accident, checking the nearby bar where she meets gracious but cagey techs Jack (Lemmon) and Ted (Wilford Brimley), in The China Syndrome, 1979.
China Syndrome, The (1979) -- (Movie Clip) I Got The Lead Story Feature reporter Kimberly (Jane Fonda) and cameraman Richard (Michael Douglas) rush home with secretly shot film from the nuclear plant control room, featuring Jack Lemmon, received by producer Mac (James Karen) and newsroom boss Jacovich (Peter Donat), in The China Syndrome, 1979.
China Syndrome, The (1979) -- (Movie Clip) Felt Like An Earthquake PR man Gibson (James Hampton) is giving the feature-story news crew (Jane Fonda, Michael Douglas, Daniel Valdez) a tour of the nuclear plant when something happens, Jack Lemmon (as Jack Goddell) and Wilford Brimley (as "Ted') responding in the control room, early in The China Syndrome, 1979.
Tender Mercies -- (Movie Clip) Ain't No Good Ex-manager (Wilford Brimley) tells ex-country star Mac (Robert Duvall) his ex-wife doesn't like his new song, and new wife (Tess Harper) tries to console him, in Tender Mercies, 1983, from Horton Foote's screenplay.



Jim Brimley
John Brimley
Bill Brimley


Lynne Brimley
Married in 1956.