Robert “Bob” Norris, the “ruggedly handsome” cowboy who rose to fame as the “Marlboro Man”, has died. He was 90.
Norris passed away on Nov. 3 in his hometown of Colorado Springs, Colorado under the care of Pikes Peak Hospice, according to his obituary. He was surrounded by his family at the time of his death.
The Colorado native is best known for being one of the first to portray the “Marlboro Man” in the cigarette company’s commercials.
In the ads, Norris was always featured in a fictional world of ranching, wearing cowboy attire — including his iconic cowboy hat — as he held a cigarette in either his mouth or his hand.
His family said it was “his tall, ruggedly handsome, lanky good looks that landed him the unexpected role,” but despite having a cigarette in his mouth or hand for around 14 years, Norris never smoked a day in his life.
He eventually abandoned the Marlboro campaign when he had kids, claiming that his role in the commercials was “setting a poor example for his children,” his obituary states.
Born in 1929, Norris grew up in Illinois, attending Elgin Academy in St. Charles, before heading south to attend the University of Kentucky and play for their football team. In June 1950, Norris married Jane Wright.
That same year, Norris, who primarily came from a family of financiers and lawyers, went into the horse and cattle business after learning the ranching business from an uncle.
By 1953, Norris and Wright had moved to Ft. Collins, Colorado and purchased the Rist Canyon ranch. They remained there until 1957 when the couple decided to start having children.
They eventually moved to Black Forest, settling down in the Broadmoor area, and also established roots in Paradise Valley, Arizona for a winter home.
While in Colorado, Norris purchased the T-Cross brand, which is now the oldest registered brand in the state, and eventually bought a 20,000-acre land that became the T-Cross Ranch. He later bought a second ranch in Arizona.
The ranches soon became the place where Marlboro intended to shoot their very first commercials and photograph horses.
However, after showing up and meeting Norris, the tobacco company decided to replace their professional model with him, as Norris seemed incredibly authentic to the role and “already dirty.”
Aside from making him a well-known name in the industry, T-Cross Ranch also helped Norris develop longlasting friendships — he and legendary actor John Wayne became close pals after Wayne started coming to many of his horse sales — and venture into the philanthropy world.
In 1988, he founded Roundup for Autism, a nonprofit organization that raises awareness and funds for the Autism Treatment Centers of Texas.
The cowboy found it especially rewarding to combine his love for ranching with philanthropy, and organized special animal rides for disabled children — an experience his obituary says provided the kids with a “transformative experience in the great outdoors.”
As he aged, Norris found enjoyment in watching his family, including his four children — Steve, Carole, Leslie, and Bobby — 13 grandchildren, and 18 great-grandchildren, work together on the ranch.
“Bob was a man of unassuming manner that belied his vast accomplishments,” the obituary states. “A devoted husband and father, he doted on his grandchildren and great-grandchildren, and cherished the homes he and his wife created, not just for their expansive beauty and exquisite taste, but because they were the heart of activity for family and friends.”
“Did Bob ever retire? He made his last range ride in 2017, but always remained actively engaged in ranch operations, and avidly interested in the future through his grandchildren and great-grandchildren,” the obituary goes on. “‘It’s been a good run,’ he once said. He never sold his saddle. He knew he’d need it when it was time to ride into the sunset.”
A celebration of life was held in his honor on Friday in Colorado Springs.
In lieu of flowers, the family is requesting donations be made to Roundup for Autism or to the Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors (TAPS), which helps families of fallen veterans.
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