I’m sure that is just a natural fact of life for every generation, but I’ve become more aware of it lately. Sure, we had our Kurt Cobains and River Phoenixes along the way, but there is a certain immortality about the stars, celebrities and the like.
No doubt, as we grow older, the passing of these icons is a reminder to us that there is no such thing as immortality, save the ghosts we see on screen.
At first glance, Brimley would seem to be an odd inclusion in the canon of Generation X icons. For many of us, he first appeared on our radar as manager Pop Fisher in “The Natural,” or as one of the stars of “Cocoon,” the Ron Howard sci-fi about rejuvenated geriatrics. The gruff actor, barely 50 at the time of filming, was cast as an old man with the likes of Don Ameche and Hume Cronyn.
Others may remember him for a reoccurring role on “The Waltons,” or as the grandfather on “Our House.” Those unaware of his acting career most certainly know him as the pitchman for Quaker Oats and his Liberty Medical campaign for diabetes awareness that has since become one of the biggest memes of all time.
It would be an understatement to describe him as gruff, but it came naturally and was what made him truly unique. He dropped out of school at a young age and worked as a cowboy. He enlisted with the Marine Corps. Work as a ranch hand, wrangler and blacksmith eventually led him to Hollywood, shoeing horses for television.
A friendship with Robert Duvall found him cast in 1983’s “Tender Mercies.” It was on that set where one of the greatest Brimley legends was born. Bucking a director telling him what his character “Harry” was feeling, he replied “Now, look, let me tell you something — I’m Harry. Harry’s not over there, Harry’s not over here. Until you fire me or get another actor, I’m Harry, and whatever I do is fine ‘cause I’m Harry.”
So, while some may have been surprised to see the lovable TV grandfather show up as Bill DeVasher, the security man for “The Firm,” it wasn’t a reach when he delivered lines like “What do you think I am around here, the f______ night watchman?” or “I get paid to be suspicious when I’ve got nothing to be suspicious about.”
Not to mention putting fear into Tom Cruise at his off-site “debriefing” in perhaps the most memorable scenes of his career. It was a turn he later deadpan parodied with equal skill on “Seinfeld” as Postmaster General Harry Atkins.
Imagine how surprised some of those same people might be if they heard him sing standards with the Jeff Hamilton Trio? Yet, he did just that, releasing an album in 2013.
He was never big on Hollywood, yet produced an amazing amount of work, and always was aware of his role, once telling the Dallas Morning News “I’m never the leading man. I never get the girl. And I never get to take my shirt off. I started by playing fathers to guys who were 25 years older than I was.”
He did it his way, and more than one Gen-Xer eats that oatmeal because it’s the right thing to do, and the tasty way to do it.
If you don’t, Brimley might just show up and whip ya. Just like that dia-beet-us.