Wilford Brimley, a Santa Clara, Utah, farrier, who was best known for his acting roles on television and the big screen, passed away Saturday, Aug. 1, 2020. He was 85.
Brimley was on dialysis for a kidney condition and had several ailments, including diabetes.
“Wilford Brimley was a man you could trust,” Lynda Bensky, Brimley’s manager, 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.”
Brimley, who served in the United States Marine Corps during the Korean War, was a ranch hand, wrangler and farrier on ranches throughout the West.
“My father wanted me to do something to earn an honest living, so I said I wanted to make that honest living shoeing horses,” he told the 2003 American Farrier’s Association Convention in Salt Lake City, Utah, according to Fran Jurga, writing for Equus magazine. “My father looked at me and said, ‘That’s a little bit too honest, son.’”
In the 1960s, Brimley was shoeing horses for TV westerns when he was recruited to perform stunts. His career change into acting came after meeting Robert Duvall on the set of “Cimarron Strip.”
“I was fascinated with what he was able to do as an actor,” Brimley told the Los Angeles Times. “I’d never seen anything like it.”
He began his acting career with two uncredited roles in “True Grit,” starring John Wayne, Glen Campbell, Kim Darby and Duvall. Two years later, he portrayed Marc Corman in another uncredited role in “Lawman,” starring Burt Lancaster. Brimley made his way onto the small screen portraying a blacksmith during the final season of “Kung Fu,” starring David Carradine. It was his role as Horace Brimley on “The Waltons” that solidified his acting career, launching him to roles in high-profile films such as “The China Syndrome,” “The Electric Horseman,” “Brubaker,” “Tender Mercies” and “The Natural.” His most highly-acclaimed roles came in 1985 and 1988 portraying Ben Luckett in “Cocoon” and “Cocoon: The Return.”
Brimley returned to television in 1986 in “Our House.” Gus Witherspoon takes in his daughter-in-law and his three grandchildren after his son passes away. Brimley’s character shod horses to support his on-screen family.
He became a spokesman for Quaker Oats oatmeal and appeared in a number of commercials for Liberty Mutual to raise awareness about diabetes.
“[Many people] have diabetes, and they deny it,” he once said. “They think there’s something to be ashamed about.”
The American Diabetes Association honored Brimley in 2008 for his lifetime work of service on behalf of diabetic patients.