Top Ten Dead Movie Star Cigarette Advertisements

Starting with our Barbados Sweetheart: Claudette Colbert

There was a time not so long ago when smoking was considered “calming” and “healthy for the nerves”. The criminals who ran the tobacco companies knew for decades that smoking was killing millions of people through cancer, heart and lung diseases – but the almighty dollar was far more important than mass murder (for that is what they did).

Through advertising, cigarette placement in movies, the embracing of smoking as women’s liberation (“You’ve come a long way, baby.”), political activism and distributing “kiddy packs” of cigarettes to minors, the tobacco companies made new addicts and staved off product and advertising bans until the tide turned in the late 1980’s and early 1990’s.

Here are some fabulous movie star tobacco advertisements we found at the Stanford School of Medicine’s exhibit Not a Cough in a Carload. Many of these folks died of lung disease, heart failure and cancer – but some lived to 90 and 100 years old. Here is Shona’s list of the Top 10 Dead Movie Star Cigarette Advertisements

Number 10 – Barbados Sweetheart Claudette Colbert

claudette colbert tobacco

Claudette Colbert – Lived 92 years, died in Speightstown, Barbados in 1996.

Number 9 – Lucille Ball

lucille ball cigarette

Lucille Ball – Died aged 77 of a ruptured aorta

Number 8 – Jean Harlow

jean-harlow cigarette

Jean Harlow – Lived 26 years, Died of Renal failure (kidney failure)

Number 7 – Rock Hudson

Rock Hudson Smoking

Rock Hudson died at age 59 of AIDS

Number 6 – Gary Cooper


Gary Cooper – Died of lung cancer at age 60

Number 5 – Bob Hope


Bob Hope – Died aged 100 years old

Number 4 – Betty Grable

Betty Grable Tobacco

Betty Grable – Died age 56 of lung cancer.

Number 3 – Frank Sinatra


Frank Sinatra died at age 82 of a heart attack.

Number 2 – Robert Taylor


Robert Taylor died at 57 years old of lung cancer. Taylor was a chain smoker.

Number 1 – Ronald Reagan

President Reagan Smoking

Ronald Reagan – Died at age 93 with Alzheimer’s Disease.



Filed under Barbados, Celebrities, Health, History

12 responses to “Top Ten Dead Movie Star Cigarette Advertisements

  1. kiki

    Rush Hour – Ciga-Weed

  2. Duppy Lizard

    Not a good example of the dangers of smoking if you ask me. 3 of 10 died of lung cancer, median age 70 – 3 lived into their 90’s.

    Now while it is true that smoking is bad for your health and really serves no purpose – except to spend your money and give you bad breath, there are other far more serious threats to our health which we tend to ignore. The major one being the the exhaust from car fumes – but ain’t nobody giving up their cars. Add to that pollution in the air, water and soil from emissions and run offs from factories, topped off with the buildup of toxins and pesticides in the soil leaking into water.

    But hey, the ban on smoking is the poster child of today. Barbados has an extremely high death rate from cancer and I’m not talking about lung cancer.

  3. art

    The Marlboro man:

    Conspiracy theories were put forward regarding his death:

  4. Green Monkey

    Edward Bernays, a nephew of Sigmund Freud, is credited by many as being the founder of the PR industry in the early 20th century. He played a vital role on behalf of the tobacco industry in popularising smoking among young women, and as a method of increasing cigarette sales, he also promoted to the tobacco industry the idea of having medical doctors and celebrities such as opera stars etc. appear in adds to endorse smoking cigarettes as a good option to release tension and help a person relax and sooth their throat.

    Front Groups: A History

    The earliest documented example of a “front group” was the the work of Edward Bernays, a nephew of Sigmund Freud who is widely considered the “father of public relations.” Bernays began working as a press agent for theatres, hotels and other businesses in 1913. At the time, he was editor of the Medical Review of Reviews, a monthly magazine owned by a college acquaintance. He discovered that the then-famous actor Richard Bennett was interested in producing a play titled “Damaged Goods,” which Bernays described as “a propaganda play that fought for sex education.” It discussed sexual topics, such as prostitution, that were considered unusually frank for their day. Bennett was afraid that the play would be raided by police, and he hired Bernays to prevent this from happening. Rather than arguing for the play on its merits, Bernays cleverly organized a group that he called the “Medical Review of Reviews Sociological Fund,” inviting prominent doctors and members of the social elite to join. The organization’s avowed mission was to fight venereal disease through education. Its real purpose was to make “Damaged Goods” acceptable to the public, and apparently the plan worked. The show went on as scheduled, with no interference from police.

    “This was a pioneering move that is common today in the promotion of public causes — a prestigious sponsoring committee,” notes PR industry historian Scott Cutlip. “In retrospect, given the history of public relations, it might be termed the first effort to use the front or third party technique.” It was a technique that Bernays would return to time and again, calling it “the most useful method in a multiple society like ours to indicate the support of an idea of the many varied elements that make up our society. Opinion leaders and group leaders have an effect in a democracy and stand as symbols to their constituency.”


    Front groups constitute an attempt to manufacture a third party, creating the appearance of independence while in fact the so-called independent voice is actually beholden to some hidden or rarely-mentioned sponsor. How effective is this strategy? According to a survey commissioned by the Porter/Novelli PR firm, 89 percent of respondents consider “independent experts” a “very or somewhat believable source of information during a corporate crisis.” Sometimes the technique is used to hype or exaggerate the benefits of a product. Other times it is used to create doubt about a product’s hazards, or about criticisms that have been made of a company’s business practices. You used to see this technique in its most obvious and crude form in the television commercials that featured actors in physicians’ lab coats announcing that “nine out of ten doctors prefer” their brand of aspirin. But advertisements are obvious propaganda, and the third party technique in its more subtle forms is designed to prevent audiences from even realizing what they are experiencing. “The best PR ends up looking like news,” bragged one public relations executive. “You never know when a PR agency is being effective; you’ll just find your views slowly shifting.”


    It encourages conformity to a vested interest, while pretending to encourage independence. Sometimes, in fact, the message is designed to look like the very epitome of rebellion. Take, for example, a legendary publicity stunt orchestrated by Edward Bernays, which used suffragettes as third party proxies for the tobacco industry. In 1929, Bernays was hired by the American Tobacco company and charged with the task of persuading women to smoke — an activity that was then considered “unfeminine” and socially unacceptable. Bernays set out to turn this liability into an advantage by establishing cigarettes as symbols of women’s liberation. At his instigation, ten New York debutantes marched in the city’s 1929 Easter Sunday parade, defiantly smoking cigarettes as a protest against women’s inequality. Bernays dubbed it the “torches of liberty” brigade. “Front page stories in newspapers reported the freedom march in words and pictures,” Bernays would recall later. “For weeks after the event, editorials praised or condemned the young women who had paraded against the smoking taboo.” Women began lighting up in droves, and a few weeks later a Broadway theater let women inside its heretofore men’s-only smoking room.

    You can view on Google Vide0 a BBC documentary on Edward Bernays and his role in founding what became the public relations industry and also learn more about his work in developing propaganda techniques for the US government and industry to use to influence public opinion. Just go to and type in the name of the documentary in the search bar “The Century of the Self”.

  5. ace

    How Ronald Reagan get to be #1 – ???
    Same thing that applies to cigarette should happen to junk food because junk food is even worse—more people eat junk food.

  6. Avatar Gurl


    Ummmm…I kinda agree with Duppy Lizard on this one.

    Of the 10 showcased here, only 3 died of cancer related to smoking.

    Your point being…?

    If you wanna bring a more relevant argument, see….now THAT’S compelling!

  7. reality check


    smoking causes more than just lung cancer and the statistics are mind boggling

  8. art

    Check this picture of the late, great Bob Marley smoking on his album ‘Catch a fire’

    Many people say that Bob Marley’s cancer was another conspiracy, that his lung cancer was caused because someone, or a group of someones, who detested his music, or what he stood for, gave him marijuana laced with something.

    Cancer in today’s world is growing. People all around us, young and old, undeserving of this condition also contracting it.

    Every day our chromosomes undergo repairs at the hands of our RNA cellular fix-it devices, but sometimes a mistake is omitted, and slips through the cracks resulting in Cancer.

    There are too many things around us that cause these things to happen in our cells/bodies.

    People who never smoked, did healthy lifestyles, people who did no harm.

    A tragedy.

    Here’s a Youtube clip of Bob, one of the greatest and most popular musicians the Caribbean ever produced, responsible for bringing reggae to the world (Rihanna, take care of yourself):

  9. Straight talk


    What’s your point in this post?

    Smoking prolongs life – 3 over 90…or
    Smoking shortens life – 3 with cancer.

  10. cough cough

    I think BFP’s point is it is interesting how movie stars advertised cigarettes. I think it is interesting anyway.

  11. Elm

    Not all tobacco is grown or cured equal. Commercially grown & flu-cured tobacco produces an acidic smoke, whereas organically grown & air-cured tobacco produces a more alkaline smoke. Tobacco has anti-bacterial & anti-viral properties, & can also be used as a natural insecticide. Properly cured natural tobacco contains the highest concentration of all the “B” vitamins of any plant. North American natives held tobacco in high regard as a healing plant & they would know. Like milk, beer & most pasteurizaed & processed foods, tobacco has also been adulterated with sugar, salt petre & common table salt, among other substances. Cancer is a fungus & sugar feeds cancer. It very well may be, tobacco once was far more healthy than it is today, but diets devoid of nutrition & proper mineralization continue to play the greatest role in degenerative dis-ease. The war on tobacco originates from BIG PHARMA, & Corporations who view smoking as contributing to what is referred to as “lost productivity.” The anti-tobacco campaign has been one of the most well organized & funded propaganda campaigns in recent history, so much so it has induced a psychosis among the population which would be the equivalent of any other phobia, homophobia i.e., “tobaccaphobia,” or an irrational fear of tobacco smoke. The campaign has also enabled every would be bully & degraded the public & social environment. What is required, is for Governments to protect the health of smokers by passing purity in tobacco laws, similar to what the UK once had for brewing beer. Ironically, people who smoke tobacco, are today underwriting the sickness costs for diabetes which has become a chronic condition among a people who are consuming greater quantities of processed & convenience food, laced with GMO corn fructose, white processed sugar & pasteurized dairy products. Of the billions of dollars extorted from people who enjoy smoking tobacco, few dollars are returned to smokers in the form of social benefits, like smokers gazebos etc. To the contrary, to add insult to injury, smokers are taxed to pay for their own abuse & demonization. So, as long as this state of affairs exists, not one cent from my purse will find its way into the Heart or Cancer Societies. Those who smoke tobacco, should in no way support “Charities” that promote guilt & finance the disenfranchisement & shunning of tobacco smokers. The war on tobacco has gone so far it’s no longer, if it ever really was, about health but civil rights. Those who smoke tobacco have been cast by anti-tobacco bigots, as the new persecuted minority. Time for a counter-revolution.