4 Marlboro Men Died of Smoking-Related Illnesses

Sunday, February 02, 2014
Marlboro Man Eric Lawson (photo: Lawson Family, AP)

Eric Lawson was one of many actors who played the Marlboro Man in advertisements that equated tough, rugged Americanism with smoking cigarettes. Lawson died recently of a smoking-related illness, just like three others who carried on the cowboy image that Marlboro used so effectively for decades to sell its deadly products.


A veteran performer who acted in such western TV series as “Bonanza” and “Walker: Texas Ranger,” Lawson, 72, appeared in Marlboro print ads from 1978 to 1981. He died in San Luis Obispo on January 10 from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, which is most frequently caused by smoking.


“He knew the cigarettes had a hold on him,” his wife, Susan Lawson, told the Associated Press. “He knew, yet he still couldn't stop.”


Before Lawson, it was Marlboro Man David McLean, a former rodeo rider who died of lung cancer at 73 in 1995. His widow tried to sue Philip Morris, whose commercials required McLean to smoke up to five packs for a single shoot to get the perfect look. The case was thrown out of court.


Another Marlboro Man, Wayne McLaren, died of lung cancer in 1992 at age 51. After he stopped doing the ads, he worked on anti-smoking campaigns, as did Lawson and McLean.


“I’ve spent the last month of my life in an incubator and I’m telling you, it’s just not worth it,” McLaren told The Los Angeles Times from his deathbed in Newport Beach. Among his last words, according to his mother Louise, were: “Tobacco will kill you, and I am living proof of it.”


The fourth Marlboro Man to die from smoking was David Millar of Meriden, New Hampshire, who succumbed to emphysema in 1987 at age 81. The actor hated horses, which he spent considerable time on for the commercials, and smoked for more than 40 years before he quit.


The impact of the Marlboro ads was perhaps best described by the publication Advertising Age in 1999: “The most powerful—and in some quarters, most hated—brand image of the century, the Marlboro Man stands worldwide as the ultimate American cowboy and masculine trademark, helping establish Marlboro as the best-selling cigarette in the world.”

-Noel Brinkerhoff


To Learn More:

At Least Four Marlboro Men Have Died of Smoking-Related Diseases (by Matt Pearce, Los Angeles Times)

Ex-Marlboro Man Dies from Smoking-Related Disease (by John Rogers, Associated Press)

Surgeon General Report Accuses Cigarette Smoking of Causing Diabetes, Arthritis and Erectile Dysfunction (by Noel Brinkerhoff, AllGov)

$2-Billion E-Cigarette Industry Unleashes Lobbying Blitz to Limit Taxes and Regulation(by Noel Brinkerhoff and Danny Biederman, AllGov)


anonamouse 5 years ago
More accurately, article should refer to tobacco, not smoking, as the significant cause of these deaths. Smoke in and of itself is not necessarily carcinogenic, as Tashkin's famous longterm study at UCLA proved: lung cancer rates among the groups he surveyed, were highest among tobacco smokers, followed by pot/tobacco smokers and then non-smokers; pot-only smokers had the lowest cancer rates, which result Dr Tashkin attributed to anti-tumor effects of the cannabinoids in marijuana.

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