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The Marlboro Man Who Became an Anti-Smoking Activist

Eric Lawson portrayed one of the most iconic characters in the history of advertising: the Marlboro Man, devised in the mid-1950s as a talisman of vigorous, healthy masculinity, even at a time of growing evidence that cigarette smoking was injurious.

Eric Lawson, Marlboro ManIn real life, Lawson, who played the Marlboro Man in print ads from 1978 to 1981, ultimately paid a heavy toll for his own years of smoking. He died on Jan. 10 at age 72 in San Luis Obispo, Calif., from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), a disease for which smoking is the primary risk factor, according to the American Lung Association. As Lawson’s wife, Susan, told the Associated Press: “He knew the cigarettes had a hold on him. He knew, but he couldn’t stop.”

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But Lawson also exacted a measure of revenge on the tobacco industry. He later appeared in an anti-smoking commercial that parodied the cowboy character he had portrayed, and appeared in an Entertainment Tonight segment to warn viewers of the risks of smoking.

Here are some facts about Lawson and the advertising motif that he helped to demolish.

Here’s a classic 1966 Marlboro Man commercial. The music is a snippet of the movie theme song from The Magnificent Seven.


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