SALT LAKE CITY — Wilford Brimley, a Utah actor known for his diabetes advocacy and for his Quaker Oats commercials, has died at the age of 85, according to The New York Times.
His agent told the newspaper he’d been sick for the last couple of months with kidney problems.
Anthony Wilford Brimley was born in 1934 in Salt Lake City, but moved with his family to California in 1939. As a teenager, he dropped out of school to work as a cowboy in several western states, then joined the Marines. After his service, Brimley held a number of jobs including as a blacksmith and even as a bodyguard for Howard Hughes, the Times reports.
Brimley’s acting career started as a result of his cowboy and blacksmithing background. He shoed horses for western shows, then picked up minor roles and stunt work.
Eventually, his performance on television’s “The Waltons” got him noticed by the producer of “The China Syndrome,” who cast him to work alongside Jack Lemmon.
His performances in other films, including “Absense of Malice” and “Cocoon,” earned him accolades and praise both within and without Hollywood.
In the mid-80s, Brimley became familiar to a younger audience on NBC’s “Our House,” where he played the grandfather. More recently, Brimley served as the spokesman for Quaker Oats and Liberty Medical.
His own diagnosis with diabetes in the late 1970s made him passionate about speaking on the disease. The American Diabetes Association honored him in 2008 for his work in raising awareness. It also turned him into a meme, but the actor always took it in stride. Earlier this year, when someone tweeted to ask whether the coach of the Kansas City Chiefs was “the diabeetus guy,” Brimley responded that no, he was “the ‘diabeetus’ guy.”
Brimley received a special heart implant from Intermountain Medical Center in 2011, when he still lived in Wyoming, making trips to Murray periodically for follow-up visits. Eventually, he made his home in Utah County, where TMZ reports he died.
Brimley’s first wife, Lynne, died in 2000. According to TMZ, the actor is survived by his second wife, Beverly, and his three children. There was no immediate word about funeral arrangements.
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