Earlier this week it was reported that, for the third time, a Marlboro Man actor died of a smoking related disease after spending the last years of his speaking “out fiercely about the hazards of smoking.” There’s a biblical principle that underscores the tragic irony of these deaths, and it’s summed up in one Hebrew word.
But first, a little history.
For those not old enough to remember the Marlboro Country ads, let me describe what we saw on our TV screens day and night.
A handsome, strong cowboy, dubbed the Marlboro Man, sat on his majestic horse with an endless panorama of spacious, green fields in the background, known, quite perversely, as “Marlboro Country.” And as he sat astride his horse, he was smoking Marlboro cigarettes, for a time, the best known product brand in the world.
The message, of course, was clear: You could live in Marlboro Country too!
You could even be like the Marlboro Man himself if you simply puffed away on these cigarettes -- sitting on top of the world, the vast wilderness your playground and the cloudless sky the open roof over your home. Breathe deep and inhale the beauty of Marlboro Country!
In truth, the real Marlboro Country is the lung cancer ward in the local hospital, where a little girl watches her daddy breathe his last – still smoking through a hole cut in his throat.
I actually wrote about this in a 1999 book called Go and Sin No More with reference to a previous Marlboro Man who died of lung cancer. Now the tally is three actors who believed in their product so much that they endorsed it with their lives and sealed it with their deaths, seeking to warn others before it was too late.
According to a recent AP news report, “When it came to portraying the rugged western outdoorsman who helped transform a pack of filtered cigarettes into the world's most popular brand, Marlboro Man Eric Lawson was the real deal.
“Ruggedly handsome, the actor could ride a horse through the wide-open spaces of the Southwest, from Texas to Colorado to Arizona or wherever else the Phillip Morris tobacco company sent him to light up while representing a true American icon, the cowboy. And he really did smoke Marlboro cigarettes, as many as three packs a day.
Michael Brown holds a Ph.D. in Near Eastern Languages and Literatures from New York University. He is the author of 25 books, includingLine of Fire. Follow him at AskDrBrown on Facebook or @drmichaellbrown on Twitter.