Robert “Bob” Norris, who played the iconic Marlboro Man for more than a decade in the ’60s, has died at his Colorado ranch at 90. According to multiple sources, Norris was never a smoker.
Norris landed the high-profile ad campaign for the Philip Morris cigarette brand by happenstance, as his son, Bobby Norris, told the local CBS affiliate, KKTV. He said advertising executives sought out his father after spotting him in a newspaper photo alongside a famous friend of his with connections in Hollywood, John Wayne.
“They walked out of their car, these guys in their pinstripe suits, and they walked up to Dad and they said, ‘How would you like to be in commercials for Marlboro cigarettes?’” Bobby Norris told the station. “He said, ‘Well, I’m kind of busy right now. Why don’t you come back next week, and, if you’re serious, we’ll talk.’”
They went back, of course, and shot 2,000 photos, he said.
(The Gazette newspaper reported Norris’s discovery a little differently: His ranch was chosen as a place to shoot an ad campaign, and Norris was such an authentic cowboy that they wanted him in front of the lens, too.)
Norris’s son — one of four kids he had with his late wife of 65 years — explained to KKTV why his father stepped away from playing the company mascot conceived in the ’60s, just as consumers were learning how cigarettes affected their health.
“He always told us kids, ‘I don’t ever want to see you smoking,’” the younger Norris said, “so one of us finally asked, ‘If you don’t want us smoking, why are you doing cigarette commercials?’ He called up Phillip Morris and quit that day.”
The company stopped using the Marlboro Man in its advertisements only after other men who starred in its campaign died of lung cancer, NPR reported in October 2002.
Marlboro aside, Norris, whose ranch eventually covered more than 100,000 acres, was vital to his community. Not only was he held roles in local rodeo organizations, but he was an ardent philanthropist. A local venue is named after him.
Colorado Springs Mayor John Suthers gave a statement to the TV station:
“Bob Norris not only looked the part of a cowboy, he was the real deal. T-Cross Ranch has long been the largest property owner in El Paso County and Bob and his family did a remarkable job of preserving a way of life in the face of urban growth. Bob’s philanthropic giving has made a big impact on our community, including the Norris Penrose Event Center.”
The family held a public service to remember him on Friday.
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