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Former Marlboro Man Dies of Respiratory Failure

By John Lavitt 01/28/14

Eric Lawson is the third person who portrayed the famed smoking cowboy to die from smoking-related disease.

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Eric Lawson, arguably the most recognized of many actors to portray the ruggedly famous Marlboro Man, died at his home in San Luis Obispo, CA on January 10 of respiratory failure due to chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. He was 72 years old.

Although he had bit parts in TV shows ranging from “Baretta” to “Baywatch,” the actor will be remembered for being the Marlboro Man in print ads from 1978 to 1981. Not the first Marlboro Man to succumb to smoking-related illness, Lawson’s death becomes another piece of a disturbing trend that includes David Millar, who died of emphysema in 1987, and David McLean, who died of lung cancer in 1995.

Ironically, years before Lawson was finally able to quit, he did a public service announcement for the American Cancer Society in the 1990s. His wife Susan Lawson told the Associated Press, "He tried to speak to the kids, telling them don't start smoking. He already knew cigarettes had a hold on him."

Lawson smoked as many as three packs of Marlboro cigarettes every day, and was still smoking when he was diagnosed with COPD in 2007. His death added to the ongoing toll perpetrated by the Phillip Morris tobacco company and shed light on the dark underbelly of their hugely successful ad campaign that for a time captured the public consciousness. In 1999, Advertising Age declared: "The most powerful — and in some quarters, most hated — brand image of the century, the Marlboro Man stands worldwide as the ultimate American cowboy and masculine trademark, helping establish Marlboro as the best-selling cigarette in the world.”

In addition to his wife, Lawson is survived by six children, 18 grandchildren, and 11 great-grandchildren.

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Growing up in Manhattan as a stutterer, John Lavitt discovered that writing was the best way to express himself when the words would not come. After graduating with honors from Brown University, he lived on the Greek island of Patmos, studying with his mentor, the late American poet Robert Lax. As a writer, John’s published work includes three articles in Chicken Soup For The Soul volumes and poems in multiple poetry journals and compilations. Active in recovery, John has been the Treatment Professional News Editor for The Fix. Since 2015, he has published over 500 articles on the addiction and recovery news website. Today, he lives in Los Angeles, trying his best to be happy and creative. Find John on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.

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