Wilford Brimley made his breakthrough essentially playing himself on The Waltons

His character was even named Brimley.

Odds are, when Americans think of Wilford Brimley, two things come to mind, his mustache and his commercials. Throughout the 1980s and '90s, in his folksy, to-the-point manner, he would declare in Quaker Oats ads, "It's the right thing to do." Beyond selling oatmeal as a healthy breakfast, he promoted diabetes awareness for years as the spokesman for the American Diabetes Association.

With his sweater vests, plaid button-down shirts and handlebar mustache, he always seemed to be playing himself. He was a true character more than a character actor, whether he was playing a friendly nuclear power plant employee in The China Syndrome, the old-timey manager of a baseball team in The Natural, or the wicked head of of a law firm in The Firm. Of course, he even got the chance to take the lead in Ron Howard's charming sci-fi flick Cocoon.

But it all started on The Waltons. In his first credited screen appearance, Brimley made his debut on The Waltons in "The Ghost Story" in 1974. How apt was the role? He was seen on a rocking chair on a porch. His character was even named Brimley, Horace Brimley.

Brimley appeared in 10 episodes of The Waltons between 1974–77. We see Brimley ordering lumber for a barn and helping find Olivia in the woods with his dogs. It's hard to separate the character from our image of the actor. In those early appearances, he was frequently billed as "A. Wilford Brimley."

His real-life background was fit for a television plot itself. The rugged Utah native worked as a bodyguard for Howard Hughes, not to mention as a ranch hand, wrangler and blacksmith. His Hollywood career began with jobs as a horseriding extra and stuntman.

He had no formal training as an actor. Brimley indeed was always playing himself, to some degree, and that was big enough for any screen.

Watch The Waltons on MeTV!

Weekdays at 12 PM

*available in most MeTV markets
Are you sure you want to delete this comment?


Mike 46 months ago
Wilford Brimley was 40 when he made his first WAITONS appearance.
The fact that he looked far older than his years was a major factor in the longevity of his acting career.
CaptainDunsel 47 months ago
Two of my favorite turns by Wilford Brimley were in "Absence of Malice" and "In & Out". These beautifully showcased how the same basic persona could be either stern or humorous.

BTW, he was famous for his WALRUS moustache, not "handlebar".
AlF 47 months ago
Scary dude. I remember him as the postmaster general intimidating Kramer when he was refusing to accept junk mail... Funny... Yet scary...
trixie03103 47 months ago
Loved his characters from The Thing, China Syndrome, Cocoon. All so believable because they were Everyman characters.
His Walton’s character reminded me of country relatives. Thank you for your service to our country and for your movies that will live on for many generations to come.
OldTVfanatic 47 months ago
I liked his role in the gruesome 1982 version of The Thing. Plus I’ll always enjoy the way he pronounced “dia-beet-us.”
marlyn60 47 months ago
What a great character actor Wilford Brimley was, every role he played he was so down to earth. Rip Mr. Brimley you will be missed
Kenner 47 months ago
Loved him in ‘Our House’ circa 1986...Wish METV would run that series. RIP.
Hogansucks1 47 months ago
Rest In Peace Wilford, Always a No- Nonsense personality and straight forward talk, if you didn’t like it- Tough S*it ! I’m guessing he was that way in true form also, I like to think so.😊. Always loved his style!! He would have been a cool cat to know- God has got his hands full with rationalization and what/where to best place Wilford. (That’s what I like to think)- I will miss him. 😌
Gary 47 months ago
In later years had his own blacksmith shop at his home
ELEANOR 47 months ago
Wilford Brimley was in a commercial, I forget for what, and he was doing something as a cowboy and his horse was with him. And the horse was an absolute riot!! Obviously he was an old hand at being on camera. The camera would move to follow Wilford and the horse would realize that he was not in the shot and move so that he was back in it. So funny!
LadyAgnes 47 months ago
The Waltons is my favorite show of all time. Milford Brimley seemed to fit right in.
I also liked him in the show Our House
lynda 47 months ago
I love the waltons every since
I was small jean
Are you sure you want to delete this comment?