Wilford Brimley, Star of Cocoon and The Thing, RIP

Though he became known later in life for commercials featuring Quaker Oats and diabetes supplies, Anthony Wilford Brimley was a big part of two bona fide sci-fi classics, and at least one cult classic. Tonight he has died at the age of 85. A former Marine who served in the Korean War, Brimley also worked as a rodeo rider and blacksmith before becoming an actor. He frequently played cowboys and grandfathers, as well as the occasional villain role which subverted those tropes.

Famously older-looking than he appeared, he was cast as a senior citizen in Ron Howard’s Cocoon when he was 49 years old. That was perfect for the plot. In it, a group of older people find renewed youth after inadvertently swimming in a pool of alien rejuvenation fluid. A big hit in the ’80s, spawning one sequel, the film gained renewed interest in recent years for its difficulty to find on streaming. It also spawned a meme called the Brimley Line. This amused the actor, as it noted which celebrities are now surprisingly older than Brimley in Cocoon.

But viewers in sci-fi circles probably know Brimley best for John Carpenter’s The Thing. Both horror and sci-fi fans consider that 1982 film one of the greatest remakes or re-adaptations of all time. In the frightening tale of a shape-shifting alien, he played Blair, the last man at an Antarctic base mimicked by the creature. Before its (apparent) final defeat at the hands of Kurt Russell’s RJ MacReady.

He even boasts a Star Wars movie on his resume, though it’s no longer considered official. In Ewoks: The Battle for Endor, made for U.S. TV but released theatrically overseas, he played Noa Briqualon. The grumpy hermit served as an ally to orphan girl Cindel Towani and her Ewok allies, facing off against evil marauders and a witch. George Lucas came up with the story, but elements like sorcery place it out of current Disney canon. Brimley worked regularly across all genres, with acclaimed dramatic hits like The China Syndrome on his resume alongside titles like Mutant Species, and John Woo’s first U.S. action film Hard Target.

Brimley leaves behind his wife Beverly and three children. Our condolences go out to his family and fans.

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