Philanthropist and rancher Bob Norris, best known as the original “Marlboro Man,” died earlier this week. He was 90.
Famous for a face that graced thousands of billboards and magazine ads, always with a Marlboro cigarette in hand or dangling from his lips, Norris served as the recognizable smoking cowboy for 12 years — though he never smoked a single cigarette himself.
Norris was first approached by ad executives on his 63,000 acre ranch outside of Colorado Springs after he was spotted in a photo with his friend, actor John Wayne, his son, Bobby Norris, told NBC News affiliate WWBT.
When asked whether he would be interested appearing in Marlboro cigarette commercials, Norris apparently shrugged.
“And he said, ‘Well I’m kind of busy right now,’” Bobby Norris said of his father, laughing. “He says, ‘Why don’t you come back next weekend if you’re serious, and they did. They came back next weekend.”
For the first ad, apparently about 2,000 pictures were shot of Norris with the notable cigarette.
Never a smoker himself, Norris had told his children that he didn’t want to see them hacking a butt either.
Son Bobby Norris told WWBT that his father’s opposition to the habit eventually led to his children’s asking, “If you don’t want us smoking, then why are you doing cigarette commercials?”
Norris quit his career as the Marlboro Man the next day, his son said, bringing an end to the photo shoots after 12 years.
Beyond his career as the face of one of the country’s biggest tobacco brands, Norris enjoyed a career as a successful rancher and philanthropist, especially for animal causes.
His wife of 65 years, Jane Norris, died in 2016. The couple, who met in college in Kentucky, are survived by their four children and 13 grandchildren as well as lessons he taught his family, his son said.
“There’s no gray area between right and wrong,” Bobby Norris said, describing one lesson from his father. “You do the right thing even if it costs you.”
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