I'm Alan Landers
You probably know me best as the 'Winston Man.' And ironically, I'm now a lung cancer survivor.
For over two decades, celebrities have entrusted Coping® to tell the world about their personal experience with cancer. We are proud to present this exclusive interview from our archives and hope that it will inspire and encourage all who read it. This article was originally published in Coping with Cancer magazine, September/October 2000.
I live in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida, and I am 57 years old. I am a professional actor, model, and acting teacher. Over the years, I appeared in various motion pictures (Stacey, Annie Hall), television shows (Ellery Queen, America's Most Wanted) and advertising campaigns (United Airlines, Brill Cream, Winston cigarettes, Tiparillo cigars).
I began smoking when I was nine years old, shortly after my father died. Everybody on TV and in the movies smoked - John Wayne, Montgomery Clift, Natalie Wood; you weren't considered a real man unless you were smoking. The hazards of cigarette smoking had not yet come to the public's attention, and the tagline for Lucky Strike cigarettes was "Lucky Strike, the healthy smoke."
During the height of my acting and modeling career, I was courted by R.J. Reynolds to appear as the "Winston Man." I did the majority of the print ads for the R.J. Reynolds tobacco company in the late 1960s and early 1970s, appearing on billboards and in magazines holding a Winston cigarette and urging others, young and old, to smoke. I was expected to portray smoking as stylish, pleasurable, and attractive.
In this reprint of a vintage poster, former "Winston Man," Alan Landers, promotes the glamour of smoking. If he only knew then what he knows now.
I was required to smoke on the set to achieve the correct appearance of the cigarette ash and butt length. Despite working closely with cigarette company personnel during the shootings, at no time was I ever told that cigarettes could be dangerous to my health.
Looking back on my career, I am ashamed that I helped promote such a lethal and addictive product to the children and adults of this country. Had I understood then what I now understand - that cigarettes are an addictive poison that can kill many of their users - I never would have participated in their mass marketing.
In 1987, the hazard of cigarettes became tragically apparent when I was diagnosed with lung cancer. Although my odds of surviving lung cancer were poor, I was determined to beat them. In a painful and dangerous surgical procedure, my doctors removed a large section of lung, hoping to remove the cancer from my body. After the surgery, I lived from examination to examination, hoping the cancer would not recur.
In 1992, I received the devastating news that another cancer had formed, this time in my other lung. The only hope was more surgery, which was accomplished only with major complications. A nerve leading to my vocal cords was cut, causing it to be almost impossible to speak normally, a crushing blow to an actor.
I am extremely short-winded because sections of both lungs have been removed, and I also have emphysema from cigarette smoking. Scars from the surgery wrap around my back, permanently disfiguring me. In October of 1996, I had open-heart surgery and a double bypass, a residual effect linked to smoking. I feel lucky to be alive and I am hoping for the best.
Since my lung cancer surgeries, I have learned a great deal about the true dangers of cigarettes and the deceit of the industry that sold them. I never understood how lethal the product really is. Looking back, I recall smoking on the eve of my first surgery. I was a strong-willed person, but the addictive power of nicotine is real. My frustration about being unable to quit is shared by many, if not most, regular smokers.
I have donated my time to the fight against tobacco and to protecting children from becoming involved with this dangerous drug. I have addressed the U.S. Senate Democratic Task Force on Tobacco and the Florida Legislature and have appeared numerous times for the American Cancer Society, the Tobacco-Free Coalition, Citizens Against Tobacco, and on national and local television and radio shows. I have committed myself to bringing the message of the real risks involved in smoking to the public, particularly kids.
I call upon the lawmakers of this country to protect our children from this dangerous substance. Tobacco products should be regulated by the FDA as the addictive drugs they are. Tobacco advertising should be eliminated or strictly curtailed. I call upon the tobacco industry to compensate its victims, its former customers, who are suffering and dying from its products.
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This article was published in Coping® with Cancer magazine, September/October 2000.