Wayne McLaren, who once portrayed the “Marlboro Man” in cigarette advertisements and used that notoriety in his own crusade against smoking, died Wednesday after a long battle with lung cancer.
“He fought a hard battle,” said Louise McLaren, mother of the 51-year-old former actor and Hollywood stuntman. “Some of his last words were: ‘Take care of the children. Tobacco will kill you, and I am living proof of it.’
“All (smokers) would have had to do was see how long he suffered before he died, and they would stop,” the mother said.
Just last week, in an interview from his hospital bed at Hoag Hospital, McLaren said his own smoking habit of 25 years had “caught up with me. I’ve spent the last month of my life in an incubator and I’m telling you, it’s just not worth it.”
During the past week as her husband lay semiconscious, Ellen McLaren said letters began arriving from people throughout the region who pledged to continue McLaren’s crusade.
“He was so concerned about the kids,” she said. “If he could touch one person’s life while he suffered, it would have made up for all the damage he felt he did while he was a (cigarette brand) model.”
He gained his greatest notoriety in 1975 as a “Marlboro Man,” one of several dozen models to portray the character in a series of print advertisements.
Last spring he appeared before a meeting of stockholders of Phillip Morris Inc., maker of Marlboro, and asked them to limit their advertising. And before his condition worsened, McLaren had made public appearances to warn children about smoking. He also spoke before the Massachusetts Legislature and appeared in a British Broadcasting Corp. production titled “The Tobacco Wars.”
“He was a very strong-willed person,” his mother said.
Found to have lung cancer more than two years ago, McLaren sued a physician who he alleged failed to discover his condition when he went for a physical examination in 1989. Last September, the case was settled out of court and terms of the agreement were ordered confidential.
In addition to his wife and mother, McLaren is survived by two brothers, Charles Lee McLaren, 49, and John L. McLaren, 40, and a sister, Marie Lynn Sellers Morrow, 43, all of Houston.
Funeral services are scheduled for 3:30 p.m. today at Pierce Brothers Bell Mortuary in Costa Mesa, with a viewing preceding the services, beginning at 1 p.m. Burial will be in Lake Charles, La.