“Marlboro Man” Eric Lawson died on January 10 of respiratory failure from COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease). Lawson had been smoking since he was 14 and although he later spoke out against smoking, he was unable to quit until he was diagnosed with COPD. Lawson, 72, was married to Susan Lawson who spoke about her husband’s inability to quit smoking.
“He knew the cigarettes had a hold on him,” she said. “He knew, yet he still couldn’t stop.”
Eric Lawson portrayed the famous Marlboro Man in print advertisements for the tobacco company from 1978-1981. The Marlboro Man was thought up by Leo Burnett in 1954. Burnett’s creation for Philip Morris would become one of the most successful and well known advertisement campaigns in America. There were many different types of Marlboro men, but the cowboy, like the one portrayed by Eric Lawson, was the most popular.
The Marlboro Man persona was played by everything from paid models to rodeo clowns. There were both television versions and print versions. Tragically, three other men who have appeared in the Marlboro Man ads have died from diseases associated with smoking.
Wayne McLaren, David McLean, and Dick Hammer all died from lung cancer associated with smoking. Though they did not all carry the title of “Marlboro Man”, each man did appear in the popular cowboy ads. The Marlboro Reds cigarette became known as the “cowboy killer” because of the deaths of so many of its actors and models.
Eric Lawson had an acting career that extended before and after his run as the Marlboro Man. Lawson had appearances on Baretta, CHIPs, Charlie’s Angels, and Baywatch. According to his wife, he really slowed down in 1997 after sustaining an injury filming a Western.
The effects of smoking tobacco have been well documented over the last 50 years. Tobacco companies were launching marketing campaigns left and right in the mid 20th century with the rise of television. But after the Surgeon General released a report declaring cigarettes required a warning in 1964, tobacco advertising has been heavily monitored. This eventually led to the fictional “death” of the Marlboro Man in American advertising, though he still lives on in other countries.
It has been estimated by the CDC that about 434,000 people die each year from smoking related deaths. Even though this information has been passed along through various programs to get people to quit smoking, there are still an estimated 44 million smokers in the US. New attempts to help smokers quit smoking come out regularly, with the e-cigarette being the most recent attempt.
The former Marlboro Man, Eric Lawson, is survived by his wife Susan and their six children, 18 grandchildren and 11 great-grandchildren.