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, redefining the Marlboro brand image from a cigarette for women to one for men.[2]

Early life and career[edit]

William Thourlby was born on January 22, 1924 in Detroit, Michigan, USA,[3] the son of William H. Thourlby and Edith Thourlby. He had two siblings, both sisters; Margaret P. Thourlby and Gloria G. Thourlby.[4]

Thourlby started his modeling career by working for the pulp magazine covers.[2] He was offered the Marlboro ad in 1953.[2]

He also began acting, appearing 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. He was given the role of a Native American chief in a sportsmen's show in New York with Jim Thorpe, and the two became friends. In the 1950s, he and Thorpe owned a restaurant in Los Angeles.[2]

Thourlby also 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 (1978),[5] Passport To Power (1992), and Women The New Power Class (2002).[citation needed]

Personal life[edit]

Compared to colleagues who were also the faces of Marlboro during that time, Thourlby claimed that he never smoked cigarettes or consumed alcohol.[6] He was friends with the athlete Jim Thorpe when they partnered to open up a restaurant in Los Angeles. Thourlby said of his relationship with Thorpe, “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.[2] Thourlby owned and operated a men's clothing store on Peachtree St. in Atlanta in the 1970s where he personally consulted with each customer on style, fit and tailoring of each suit. Until his death, Thourlby lived alone in the New York Athletic Club for 40 years and was one of its three permanent tenants.[2]

Thourlby was divorced twice and had four children; Jamie Williams, Abby Thourlby, Liza Grace Thourlby and Nana Black.[2][3] His daughter Liza Thourlby died in March 2006, at the age of 43 in Florida.[7] William Thourlby preferred to spend his latter years mostly in solitude.[2]

He died on April 15, 2013, in New York, at age 89.[3]


  1. ^ Devlin, Vince (May 26, 2002). "Marlboro Man, Without the Marlboros Marketing". Missoulian (Missoula, Montana) via Los Angeles Times. Archived from the original on March 7, 2014. 
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i j Kilgannon, Corey (August 3, 2012). "Face Of Marlboro Prefers To Be Alone". The New York Times. Archived from the original on January 19, 2015. 
  3. ^ a b c "William Thourlby: Obituary". The Times Herald via Legacy.com. May 11–12, 2013. Archived from the original on April 7, 2014. 
  4. ^ "William L Thourlby in the 1940 Census". Ancestry.com. Archived from the original on February 20, 2015. Retrieved February 20, 2015. 
  5. ^ William Thourlby (1 November 1978). You are what you wear: the key to business success. Sheed Andrews and McMeel. ISBN 978-0-8362-2902-8. 
  6. ^ Pearce, Matt (January 28, 2014). "At least four Marlboro men have died of smoking related diseases". Los Angeles Times. Archived from the original on April 25, 2014.  Note: Requires scolldown to article text.
  7. ^ "Liza Grace Thourlby". FindAGrave.com. Archived from the original on April 7, 2014. Retrieved February 20, 2015. 

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