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Marlboro Man, who never smoked, is no more

A cause of death was not provided
Robert C Norris in the Marlboro ad
Robert C Norris in the Marlboro ad
Telegraph picture

Mariel Padilla/New York Times News Service   |   New York   |   Published 10.11.19, 07:23 PM

Robert C. Norris, a rancher known for his role as the Marlboro Man in television commercials for the cigarette brand, died on Sunday at Pikes Peak Hospice & Palliative Care in Colorado Springs, Colorado. He was 90.

His death was announced in an obituary posted on his Tee Cross Ranches website.


A cause of death was not provided.

Norris, portrayed in Marlboro advertisements with a cigarette in his hand or mouth, was the face of the Marlboro brand for more than a decade.

He was first approached on his ranch after ad executives spotted him in a photo with actor John Wayne, who was a close friend, his son Bobby Norris told KKTV in Colorado Springs.

The Marlboro Man first appeared in 1955 after the cigarette and tobacco manufacturing company Philip Morris and the advertising agency Leo Burnett Worldwide revamped the cigarette brand. Norris was one of several men who depicted the Marlboro Man during the decades-long campaign.

Marlboro was founded as a women’s cigarette brand before it was repositioned as a masculine product with a rugged cowboy feel and personality.

Professor Scott Ellsworth, a lecturer at the University of Michigan and former oral historian at the Smithsonian Institution, conducted nearly 60 interviews with former Marlboro men, Philip Morris executives and Leo Burnett personnel over two years to examine Marlboro’s marketing strategy.

“The Marlboro Man campaign is easily one of the most successful advertising campaigns of all time,” Professor Ellsworth said. “It absolutely conquered the world.”

The ad campaign helped Marlboro become the world’s leading cigarette brand in 1972, where it has remained since. More than 43 per cent of all cigarettes bought in the US last year were Marlboro, according to Forbes.

Barry Vacker, an associate professor of critical media studies at Temple University, said the Marlboro Man came during a turbulent period of the Cold War, the civil rights and women’s rights movements and the emergence of rock ’n’ roll.

“The Marlboro Man stood as an iconic symbol, an individual in control of his destiny,” Professor Vacker said. “He was a reassuring figure at the height of our fear of nuclear annihilation and a conservative counter to changing values.”

He said the campaign’s cultural significance could not be matched. There does not seem to be a modern-day equivalent to the cowboy, he added.

Norris, though never a smoker, was featured as the Marlboro Man in commercials that ran for about 14 years in the US and Europe. He eventually abandoned the campaign because he felt he was setting a bad example for his children, according to his ranch website.

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