COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. (KKTV/Gray News) - Philanthropist, rancher and "The Original Marlboro Man" - those are a few of the titles Bob Norris held in his 90-year-long life.
Bob Norris, "The Original Marlboro Man," died at the age of 90 at his home in Colorado Springs, Colo. This undated photo was his headshot that he would autograph and give to fans. (Source: Norris family/KKTV/Gray News)
Bob Norris died at his Colorado home Sunday.
His son, Bobby Norris, said he knew father was special at a young age.
"People would come up and say, 'The Marlboro Man, let me buy you a drink, let me buy you lunch' and would ask for his autograph," Bobby Norris said.
He said his father was a cowboy at heart and that helped him get the job as the personification of Marlboro. Advertising executives saw his dad in a newspaper with his longtime friend, actor John Wayne, the son recalled.
They tracked Bob Norris down at his 63,000-acre 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 Norris said. "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."
Bobby Norris said they shot more than 2,000 pictures that day, beginning a 12-year long acting career that ended abruptly.
"He always told us kids, 'I don't ever want to see you smoking,' so one of us finally asked, 'If you don't want us smoking, why are you doing cigarette commercials?'" the son said. "He called up Phillip Morris and quit that day."
Bob Norris had many other roles to keep him busy, including husband to his wife, Jane. They were married for 65 years until her death in 2016. The two met in college.
"He went to the University of Kentucky and she was going to DePauw," Norris said. "He was over on the DePauw campus, and he saw her walking across the campus. And he said, 'I'm going to marry you one year from today.'
"My mother, being my mother, was like, 'Get out of here!' And she walked away from him. He missed (the wedding day) by a week."
Another role was animal lover. His relationship with an orphaned African elephant named Amy was chronicled in the book "The Cowboy and his Elephant."
"Little Amy, she just didn't grow, and they came to pick them up a year later and they loaded the other four and Dad said, 'How much do you want for this one?" the son said.
His father wrote a check for Amy on the spot.
Perhaps his most influential role was that of father, reminding his four kids and 13 grandchildren that the cowboy way of life is something to hold dear.
"There's no gray area between right and wrong," Norris said. "You do the right thing even if it costs you. You do the right thing."
A celebration of life for Bob Norris will be held Friday, Nov. 8 from 1 to 3 p.m. at the Norris Penrose Event Center in Colorado Springs. It is open to the public.
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