Back in August, Hollywood lost another one of its legends. William Brimley, whom you might remember from films like 1984s The Natural or Ron Howard’s1985 sci-fi classic Cocoon, was 85 when he passed.
In addition to being a big-screen movie star, Brimley was also a spokesman for Quaker Oats back in the late 80s and 90s and an advocate for ‘dia-beet-us’ testing supplies on those Liberty Medical commercials..
Regardless of how you remember Brimley, there is probably a lot about the charming genial man that you weren’t aware of.
No seriously, this guy was a pretty dynamic fella. You’ll see what I’m talking about in a second.
Brimley Loved Mooning People
So even though he often played a sensible, cordial character offering sage wisdom on screen, in his personal life he wasn’t opposed to showing off his backside if the timing was just right.
Cocoon co-star Steve Guttenberg did an interview with the Chicago Tribune back in 1988 where he revealed that Brimley would often moon people on the set just for fun. He further described Brimley’s shenanigans as one of the most entertaining things about working on that film.
Brimley and his good friend Robert Duvall apparently had a running contest to see who could moon the most people at once. Brimley would often burst on to the set and moon the camera and whatever observers were around to catch a gander at his derriere. According to Guttenberg, Duvall held the record for mooning a group of 2000 people while driving through a town that was holding a parade.
His Name Was Actually Anthony
Anthony Wilford Brimley was born in Salt Lake City, Utah in 1934. When he was just 6 years old he moved to California with his parents. His father, also a Wilford, worked as a real estate agent and had to relocate for work. His mother Lola was a homemaker and a highly influential figure in young Wilford’s life. When he reached his teenage years he dropped out of high school so he could join the Marines.
After enlisting, he served on the Aleutian islands for several years before returning back to the mainland to try his hand as a cowboy. For the next few years, he worked as a ranch hand, blacksmith, and horse wrangler.
Robert Duvall Helped Wilford Get Into Acting
While working as a blacksmith and horse wrangler, Blimley got a chance to shoe horses for film and TV. That was his first Hollywood in-road. Before he knew it, he was being asked to be a horse-riding extra and stuntman in several westerns.
That’s when Brimley and Robert Duvall got acquainted with each other. Duvall saw potential in Brimley and pushed him to try out a more substantial role. His first big onscreen breakthrough came in 1974 when he was cast as backwoods blacksmith Horace Brimley in The Waltons.
Brimley has always been grateful for Duvall’s encouragement. In 2014 he gave an interview with The Black Hill’s Pioneer where he recalled Duvall as being a ‘marvelous example of honesty and integrity.’
In 1983, the two got to appear onscreen together in Tender Mercies, a film that pit Duvall as a country musician attempting to reconnect with his estranged daughter. Brimley played Duvall’s agent. Harry. Incidentally, Brimley would also meet his future wife, Beverly Berry, on the set of that film.
Wilford Was Howard Hughes’ Bodyguard
Before he even considered a career as a Hollywood stuntman, extra, or actor, Brimley spent some time working for reclusive billionaire Howard Hughes as his personal bodyguard. Brimley was never keen on discussing his relationship with Hughes at length, but he referred to him as a ‘good guy’ and a pleasure to work with.
Brimley, a life-long member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints actually ended up landing the job through the church. Hughes strongly preferred hiring Mormons because they were agreeable, sober, obedient, and didn’t smoke.
Brimley Wasn’t A Trained Actor
Wilford was the kind of guy where what you saw is what you got. His genuineness and down-to-earth-demeanor weren’t the results of any method acting technique. Rather, who he was onscreen was an extenuation of who he was in real life.
Brimley never received any specific training as an actor. Instead, he chose to draw upon his years of life experience working in various professions as inspiration for his roles. A reporter in 1984 asked him where he received his training. He replied by informing them that he had 50 years of training in the way of lived-life experiences. He noted that his years as an extra helped him observe what it was like to be on camera and that he learned camera techniques that would come in handy later. But ultimately, Brimley would tout his approach as one rooted in honesty and genuineness – which is just a fancy way of saying that he was self-taught.
Wilford Brimley Surprised A Class Full Of Grade-Schoolers
In 1990, while filming in Louisiana, Brimley got acquainted with 9-year-old Elizabeth Landman, the daughter of one of the set’s caterers. Landman went back to school at St Joseph’s Catholic School and told all of her friends about how she met the guy from the Cocoon movies. Of course, kids can be cruel sometimes and no one believed her.
Once Brimley caught wind of the situation, he decided to pay St. Joseph’s a visit to give little Elizabeth’s credibility a little boost. He ended up showing up at the school completely unannounced but fortunately, the staff invited him in to give autographs and to participate in a Q&A with the curious students.
Wilford Proudly Supported Cockfighting Of All Things
Politically, Wilford Brimley always had libertarian leanings. He strongly believed that the government should butt out of people’s business.
In 1998, he attended a rally in Phoenix, Arizona which was organized to protest a state ban on cockfighting. If you’re not familiar with the ‘sport’ – if you can call it that – people bet on the outcome of bloody, brutal fights between specially trained vicious roosters equipped with razor blades on their talons.
Brimley wasn’t there because he was an avid cockfighter, but he did attend because he believed that signing such a regulation into law would create a slippery slope kind of scenario that could eventually lead to the ban of hunting dogs. The actor further said that what he was doing was trying to protect the lifestyle and freedom of choice for his descendants.
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Wilford Brimley Was A Singer As Well
Brimley never considered himself to be a great singer but he certainly had a passion for covering pop standards. Back in the 90s he performed in LA area clubs alongside pianist Bob Sinale and bassist Don Bagley.
Some of his favorite songs to perform back then were My Funny Valentine, All The Things You Are and It Had To Be You. He also made appearances on both the short-lived Pat Sajak Show and the Jerry Lewis telethon where he performed some of his favorite songs.
In 2011, Brimley made an appearance on The Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson to promote his self-titled album with the Jeff Hamilton Trio. In 2013 he released another album called Home on the Range with the western band Riders in the Sky.
Music was perpetually apart of Brimley’s life, but it was always just one of his many hobbies and talents. If you called him a musician he would deny that he truly was one. Although to be fair, he was known to say the same kind of thing when people referred to him as an actor.
Brimley Feuded With Yoda
While on the set of 1997s In and Out. Brimley and director Frank Oz got into an argument of some kind that ended with the two being on bad terms with each other. Oz, who Star Wars fans know ass the voice of Yoda, once said that Brimley was one of three people in Hollywood that hated his guts as he put it. If you’re curious who the other two are, Oz’s other enemies are apparently Marlon Brando and Cher. Neither Frank Oz nor Wilford Brimley have ever shared just what exactly their rift was over.
Brimley Was An Active Twitter User
In recent years, Brimley took on fewer and fewer roles, but he maintained an active public presence through his social media accounts. He had a verified Twitter account where he – or maybe his agent – would post inspirational quotes and occasionally respond to a fan comment or one of the many memes that he helped inspire.
Brimley was perfectly okay with the fact that his ‘dia-bee-tus’ Liberty Medical commercials became a target for jest and lampooning. He took it all in stride.
He Was The Voice Of Diabetes
Brimley was diagnosed with type II diabetes in 1979. He immediately got involved with trying to raise awareness for the disease and spent the remainder of his life trying to educate the public about diabetes, its prevention, and treatment. In 2008. The American Diabetes Association honored him with a lifetime achievement award for his years of service. Brimley also spent a lot of time visiting Veterans Administration hospitals and facilities to help educate patients on how to best manage their diseases.
Brimley died on August 1, 2020 at a hospital in St. George, Utah. He was 85 when he passed away. He had been battling with an acute kidney condition for several months before he died.
He might be gone but he won’t soon be forgotten. And to be fair, they are probably going to keep airing those Liberty Medical commercials for another decade or so.
We’d love to hear from you. What do you remember Wilford Brimley from, those diabetes commercials or his film career? Drop us a line in the comments section below with your favorite Brimley memory.
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