It was announced yesterday that Eric Lawson, actor, had died at age 72. His cause of death was respiratory failure due to chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). Eric Lawson, who died of a smoking-related illness, was the Marlboro Man from 1978 to 1981.
Lawson was one of the few actors cast as the smoking cowboy. Usually Philip Morris went with rodeo riders and ranch-hands to give their ads an authentic feel. The image of a tough, rugged man smoking their cigarettes caused the company’s sales to grow tremendously. Philip Morris took a chance on Lawson, who started smoking at 14, because he looked the part.
Though a long-time smoker, Lawson took part in an anti-smoking advertisement for the American Cancer Society in the 1990s that mocked the Marlboro Man campaign. He also gave an interview on an Entertainment Tonight segment during which he spoke of the negative effects of smoking and the health risks.
His wife, Susan Lawson, has spoken about how proud he was to take part in the interview, though he continued smoking until he was diagnosed with COPD. “He knew the cigarettes had a hold on him,” she said. “He knew, yet he still couldn’t stop.”
Cigarettes are incredibly addictive, as is smoking of any kind. In recent years, though cigarette use is down, pipe tobacco and cigar use is up. Though there is plenty of information out there about the risks of smoking, which include yellow teeth and fingers, bad breath, early wrinkles, high blood pressure, lung disease, and cancer, it is difficult for those who start the habit to stop.
Lawson may have helped sell cigarettes at one time, but he changed his stance in his later years to advocate against smoking. His death brings to light a sad sort of irony that has plagued many of the other Marlboro Men. Lawson is thought to be the fifth actor or model to portray the cowboy who has died of smoking-related causes.
Image from the American Cancer Society