William Thourlby

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William Leo Thourlby (January 22, 1924 – April 15, 2013) was an American actor, model and writer. He was known for his rugged, cowboy look, when he appeared as the face of the Marlboro Man campaign in the 1950s.[1] This ad campaign was one of the 20th century's most famous ad campaign that redefined the Marlboro brand image from a cigarette for women to being a manlier, "Macho smoke."[2]


Thourlby started his modelling career by working for the pulp magazine covers.[2] Thourlby appeared in the films The Manchurian Candidate (1962), The Creeping Terror (1964) as Dr. Bradford and as Ben Wiley in Angel's Flight (1965). He was also the producer of Angel's Flight.[3]

He was given the role of an Indian Chief in a sportsmen's show in New York with Jim Thorpe.[2] He appeared on Broadway in Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter? with Jayne Mansfield and Walter Matthau.[2]

As a published writer, Thourlby's books included You Are What You Wear (1995), Passport To Power (1992), and Women The New Power Class (2002).[4]

In the 1950s, he owned a restaurant partnered with his friend, Jim Thorpe, in Los Angeles, which later closed.[2]

Personal life[edit]

William Thourlby was born on January 22, 1924 in Detroit, Michigan, USA,[5] the son of William H. Thourlby and Edith Thourlby. He had two siblings, both sisters; Margaret P. Thourlby and Gloria G. Thourlby.[6]

Compared to his colleagues, who were also the faces of Marlboro during that time, Thourlby claimed that he never smoked cigarettes or consumed alcohol.[7] He was friends with the athlete Jim Thorpe when they first partnered together to open up a local restaurant in Los Angeles. William Thourlby once described his relationship with Jim Thorpe as, “Jim adopted me as his son in an Indian ceremony – I called him Dad and he called me ‘my boy.’”[2] Thorpe helped Thourlby land several roles in movies before his Marlboro campaign. When Thorpe died in 1953, that is when Thourlby was offered the Marlboro ad.[2]

Up until he died, Thourlby lived alone in the New York Athletic Club for forty years and was one of the three permanent tenants that resided there. The club has a formal dress code unlike the cowboy look Thourlby is famous for, but he never had a problem abiding to the dress code because he lived by those dressing standards.[2]

Thourlby went through two divorces and had four children; Jamie Williams, Abby Thourlby, Liza Grace Thourlby and Nana Black.[2][5] His daughter Liza Thourlby died in March 2006, at the age of 43 in Florida.[8] William Thourlby preferred to spend his latter years mostly in solitude.[2]

He died on April 15, 2013 in New York, at the age of 89.[5]