(Reuters) – Eric Lawson, one of several actors who depicted the “Marlboro Man” cowboy in a long-running series of cigarette ads for Philip Morris and later appeared in an anti-tobacco message for the American Cancer Society, has died of lung disease.
He was 72, and died at his home in the central California town of San Luis Obispo of respiratory failure due to chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, which the U.S. surgeon general has linked to smoking.
His death was reported by his family in an obituary notice published on Sunday in the Los Angeles Times. The date of his death was not specified.
The square-jawed Lawson played dozens of bit parts in television shows spanning three decades, starting in the 1970s, including “Baretta,” “The Waltons,” “CHiPs,” “Charlie’s Angeles and “The A-Team.”
His screen credits also included appearances in several relatively obscure film titles, such as “Gymkata,” “King Cobra” and “Tall Tale,” but his acting career was disrupted by an accident he suffered while filming the 1991 movie “The Shooter,” according to his obituary.
Lawson was perhaps best recognized for his appearances during the late 1970s and early 1980s as the rugged cowboy in Marlboro Man print ads for Marlboro-brand cigarettes, one of the world’s most successful commercial campaigns.
The Marlboro Man promotion was launched in the 1950s as a way of instilling a masculine image for then-newly filtered Marlboro cigarettes, originally considered a women’s brand, and re-positioning them as a tobacco choice for men.
The campaign was seen as instrumental in establishing Marlboro as the top-selling cigarette brand in the United States and internationally, said Tom Glynn, director of cancer science and trends for the American Cancer Society.
Years later, however, Lawson became outspoken in warning of the dangers of cigarettes, appearing in a 1998 anti-tobacco public service message for the American Cancer Society that parodied the Marlboro man character.
In the 30-second ad, western-style music plays in the background as Lawson is seen in his full cowboy regalia, smoking, riding his horse, herding cattle, mending fences, splitting firewood and then puffing away on another cigarette when the music abruptly ends with a loud thud.
Lawson turns around stunned to see his horse lying motionless on the ground, and the scene fades to the message: “Secondhand smoke kills.”
Lawson was one of several actors and pitchmen hired over the years to appear in Philip Morris’s Marlboro Man and Marlboro County ads in print and television.
His family’s obituary said Lawson also “was particularly proud of an NBC interview he gave regarding the negative effects of cigarette smoking.”
He is survived by six children, 18 grandchildren and 11 great-grandchildren, according to his family.