The first ‘Marlboro Man’ on television died after never smoking a day in his life. Other cigarette mascots have met a different fate.

Robert

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Robert “Bob” Norris, the first Marlboro Man on television.
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Tee Cross Ranch

  • Robert Norris, the first Marlboro Man to appear on television, died at age 90.
  • Norris served as the popular icon for Marlboro cigarettes for more than decade, though he was never a smoker.
  • He quit the campaign due to concerns that he was setting a bad example for his children.
  • At least five men who appeared in Marlboro advertisements have died of smoking-related illnesses.
  • Visit Insider’s homepage for more stories.

Robert “Bob” Norris never smoked a day in his life, but for more than a decade he served as the face of most popular cigarette brand in America: Marlboro.

Norris was the first person to appear on television as the company’s famed icon, the “Marlboro Man.” The figure is often depicted as a rugged cowboy trailing the plains on horseback with a cigarette in his mouth.

Norris’ commercials ran in the US and Europe for about 14 years. He died on November 3 in his hometown of Colorado Springs, Colorado, at age 90.

Smoking aside, his real life bore many similarities to the character he played on television. Norris was a rancher who owned a 63,000-acre property near Colorado Springs called T-Cross Ranch. He was also a longtime friend of actor John Wayne, who attended Norris’ horse sales. Marlboro executives first discovered Norris in a newspaper photo alongside the legendary actor. Shortly after, they asked him to appear in their commercials.

Norris severed his ties with Marlboro after his children took issue with the smoking campaign.

“He always told us kids, ‘I don’t ever want to see you smoking,’ so one of us finally asked, ‘If you don’t want us smoking, why are you doing cigarette commercials?,” his son, Bobby, told the local radio station WKYT. Norris quit the campaign immediately after.

The advertising character of the Marlboro Man on the premises of cigarette manufacturer Philip Morris in Berlin, Germany.

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The advertising character of the Marlboro Man on the premises of cigarette manufacturer Philip Morris in Berlin, Germany.
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Paul Zinken/Getty Images

Norris’ distaste for smoking makes him somewhat unique among Marlboro Men. At least five men who appeared in Marlboro advertisements have died of smoking-related illnesses. One of these men, David McLean, died of lung cancer in 1995. His widow sued Philip Morris, the tobacco company that owns Marlboro, a year later.

“During the taping of the commercials, David McLean was obligated to smoke Marlboro cigarettes,” her lawsuit reads. “The commercials were very carefully orchestrated, and David McLean was required to smoke up to five packs per take in order to get the ashes to fall a certain way, the smoke to rise a certain way and the hand to hold the cigarette in a certain way.”

The lawsuit was ultimately dismissed in court, but the cigarettes have since incurred the nickname “cowboy killers.”