Robert Norris, the original face of Marlboro cigarettes, dies at 90 having never smoked

Robert Norris, the original face of Marlboro cigarettes, dies at 90 having never smoked
(Getty Images)

Well, it's the end of an era. The first 'Marlboro Man' in TV ads, Robert Norris, 90, died on November 3 at his ranch in Colorado Springs, Colorado. He is survived by his two sons and two daughters, 13 grandchildren and 18 great-grandchildren. His wife, Jane Norris, had died in 2016.

Norris' stint as the 'Marlboro Man' began when his T-Cross Ranch was selected as the location for an advertisement for the cigarette brand for its 'Marlboro Country' ad campaign. However, when the advertising executives saw him, he appeared more authentic in his everyday workwear than the models and costumes they had hired for the shoot.

At the time, Leo Burnett, the Chicago ad agency in charge of the Marlboro account, were trying to figure out how to sell the cigarette with a filter tip, aimed at women, to men as well. Norris appeared in Marlboro ads for 14 years in the US and Europe, with a cigarette in his hand or mouth and was the face of the cigarette brand through the 60s. But he, ironically, never smoked a day in his life.

In the early 1970s, Norris’ son Bobby asked him why he made the ads “when you tell us not to smoke.” Norris quit the Marlboro ad campaign soon after. He also turned down an opportunity to star alongside John Wayne when the actor offered him a role in the 1971 film 'Big Jake'. Wayne met Norris, not because of his ads, but through his cattle operations after Norris helped with the star’s first foray into the cattle business. Norris was also the subject of the book 'A Cowboy and His Elephant' by Malcolm MacPherson, published in 2001, about his story of adopting an ailing baby elephant named "Amy".

He was known as a true cowboy and a prominent philanthropist. He was a member of the Board of Trustees for the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum (nicknamed the "Cowboy Hall of Fame") and was included in their "Hall of Great Westerners". He was also an honorary member of the 'Cowboys Artists of America'.


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