LOS ANGELES: 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 California of respiratory failure due to chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, which the US surgeon general has linked to smoking.
The square-jawed Lawson played dozens of bit parts in television shows spanning three decades, starting in the 1970s, including Baretta, Chips, Charlie’s Angels and The A-Team. Lawson was best recognised for his appearances during the late ’70s and early ’80s 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, which was originally considered a women’s brand, and repositioning them as a tobacco choice for men.
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 both print and television.
He is survived by six children, 18 grandchildren and 11 great-grandchildren, according to his family.
Published in The Express Tribune, January 29th, 2014.
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