Robert Norris, known as the original ‘Marlboro Man’ used in ads for the cigarette brand, has died at age 90.
Norris passed away at his ranch in Colorado Springs, Colorado, on Sunday. He is survived by his two sons and two daughters, 13 grandchildren and 18 great-grandchildren.
For 12 years, Norris graced billboards and magazines as the Marlboro Man, a rugged man wearing a cowboy hat in wild terrain – with a cigarette hanging out of his mouth or in his hand.
But despite him pictured holding cigarettes for more than a decade, Norris never smoked and he eventually quit the ad campaign when he felt he wasn’t setting a good example for his children.
Robert Norris, 90, the original ‘Marlboro Man’, died on Sunday at his ranch, Tee Cross, in Colorado Springs, Colorado. Pictured: Norris in an undated photo as the Marlboro Man
He was approached by advertising executives who were scouting for a cowboy to appear in their Marlboro Man commercials. Norris was the Marlboro Man for 12 years and appeared in TV commercials in the US and Europe. Pictured: Norris with his friend, actor John Wayne, left; and right
Norris was born in Chicago, Illinois, but decided from a young age that he wanted to be a cowboy.
He began raising horses at age 18, before he eventually moved to Colorado to buy his ranch, Tee Cross Ranches, in 1950, which eventually grew to 63,000 acres.
At the time, advertising executives for Marlboro cigarettes – originally marketed as women’s cigarettes – were trying to figure out how to sell them to men.
Chicago advertiser Leo Burnett conceived the idea of the Marlboro Man, a rugged cowboy smoking a Marlboro cigarette in the great outdoors.
At first the company used professional models. But soon, Burnett felt that, for authenticity’s sake, he needed to find real cowboys.
Norris’s son, Bobby, told KKTV that advertising executives saw his father in a photo in a newspaper with his friend, actor John Wayne.
Soon enough, they found him at the Tee Cross Ranches.
‘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 told KKTV.
‘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 came back the next week.’
Over the next 12 years, Norris appeared on billboards and in magazines, and became the first Marlboro Man to appear on TV in both the US and Europe.
Norris never smoked and, feeling that he was setting a bad example for his children, he quit the advertising campaign. Pictured: A sketch of Norris for Marlboro
After he stopped working for ad campaigns, Norris continued to work on his ranch and became a philanthropist. Pictured: The landmark “Marlboro Man” billboard above Sunset Boulevard, California, in June 1997
However, Norris was never a smoker and ended up leaving the campaign after he felt he was setting a poor example for his children.
‘He always told us kids: “I don’t ever want to see you smoking”,’ Bobby said.
‘So one of us finally asked: “If you don’t want us smoking, why are you doing cigarette commercials?”‘
KKTV reports that on that same day, Norris called up Phillip Morris, the company that produces Marlboro cigarettes, and quit.
Norris continued working on his ranch, raising animals, which he loved.
In 2003, the owner of five baby elephants that had been orphaned in Zimbabwe leased stalls at the ranch.
Norris adopted one of them Amy, who eventually grew to be eight feet tall and weighing 4,000 pounds.
She lived at the Fresno Zoo in California and Norris visited her until she passed in 2016.
In lieu of flowers, the family is requesting donations be made to Roundup for Autism or to TAPS (Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors), which helps families of fallen veterans.