TV & Showbiz

2 Anti-Smoking Commercials Starring Actors Dying of Lung Cancer


At least two well-known Hollywood stars decided to send an important message about smoking and lung cancer before they died of the disease.

If you were a longterm smoker who learned you had terminal lung cancer, what would you do? If you’re famous, you might try to send an important message to your fans.

Remember the old Perry Mason TV series? Most people believe the urban legend that the attorney, played by Raymond Burr, never lost a case. Actually, over the series’ run, he lost three cases. But the skillful attorney was able to reverse two of those three guilty verdicts. Still, even with only a near-perfect record, Mason stood as a formidable opponent to District Attorney Hamilton Burger.

But it turns out the actor who player Burger, William Talman, faced an even worse nemesis: lung cancer. In 1968, he recorded an anti-smoking message for the American Cancer Society after learning he was dying. The 60-second spot begins with film of his wife and children with Talman introducing each one.

We then see a photo of Talman and Burr together. Talman sets the photo aside and addresses his character’s courtroom track record:

You know, I didn’t really mind losing those courtroom battles, but I’m in a battle now I don’t want to lose at all. Because if I lose it, it means losing my wife and those kids you just met. I’ve got lung cancer. So take some advice about smoking and losing from someone who’s been doing both for years. If you don’t smoke, don’t start. If you do smoke, quit! Don’t be a loser.

Talman died four weeks after filming the message. He had asked that it not air until after his death.

Eighteen years later, TV viewers were again met from a “voice beyond the grave.” Actor Yul Brenner, who died from lung cancer in 1985, was suddenly on the small screen with an anti-smoking message. His words came from an interview on ABC’s Good Morning America.

Now that I’m gone, I tell you: Don’t smoke. Whatever you do, just don’t smoke. If I could take back that smoking, we wouldn’t be talking about any cancer. I’m convinced of that.

Did the two spots help? Well, people still — inexplicably — smoke. I’ve never understood why. But when you consider how insistent these two men, realizing the inevitability of their own mortality was in those moments, that people not take up the bad habit they had, it makes you wonder all the more why anyone would pick up a cigarette in the first place.

the authorPatrick
Patrick is a Christian with more than 30 years experience in professional writing, producing and marketing. His professional background also includes social media, reporting for broadcast television and the web, directing, videography and photography. He enjoys getting to know people over coffee and spending time with his dog.