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June 29, 2012 10:09 PM

Clint Roberts: The Marlboro Man

ft. pierre, sd

For years he was commonly known as the "Marlboro Man." But former Congressman Clint Roberts of South Dakota has a much quieter and less hectic life these days.  Early in his career Roberts appeared in a few cigarette and beer commercials and roles in a handful of movies. 

So what has he been up to since his days in Washington, D.C.?

As said in a 1975 Schlitz commercial "life is too short to settle for less."

Clint Roberts never settled for less.  In fact, he was involved in more than just politics.  His appearance in a Schlitz Beer commercial was just one of a few of his other wild adventures.  It premiered in the 1975 Super Bowl.  But that was then.

We sat down for a cup of coffee with him recently to talk about the good old days as a Congressman and of course a cowboy.  

Roberts grew up in Presho and knew how to ride a horse and today still jokes about filming that beer commercial.

"They said, 'would you stampede those buffalo and then stop them before you get to the fence?'  Well you don't stampede 4,500 buffalo and then stop them when they get to the fence," Roberts said. 

Before he was ever elected to Congress, Roberts moonlighted as a TV commercial and feature film actor. The ruggedly handsome cattle rancher played a sheriff in the 1976 comedy Western, "The Duchess and the Dirtwater Fox," starring Goldie Hawn and George Segal.  He also auditioned for the cigarette role of "Marlboro Man," but was snuffed out by a Wyoming cowboy instead.

"He photographed a lot better than I did. He couldn't ride any better than I could," Roberts said.

Even though he didn't get the part, the cigarette label stuck. In fact, many still refer to him as the "Marlboro Man."

"That was a little overused.  I never perpetuated it; I tried to put it down," Roberts said.

But his cowboy acting career got him noticed and saddled into politics, riding down the same path as his mentor, the late Senator Jim Abdnor.

"I ended up in the legislature and Senate for three terms, six years, took his Congressional seat when he went to the Senate," Roberts said.

After being newly elected to Congress in 1980, Roberts grabbed the headlines once again, this time for his legendary ride into the town's Centennial Ball in the Capitol Rotunda.

"I even got coverage in Texas on that.  But they say get your name in the paper, it really doesn't make a difference of what for," Roberts said.

But Roberts didn't hold onto the reins of Congress for very long.  When South Dakota went from two house seats to one in 1982, Roberts was forced to run against a young but popular politician named Tom Daschle and lost. 

Today in retirement, Roberts and his wife of 59 years live along the banks of the Missouri River in Ft.  Pierre. 

"It's pretty quiet over here and we're still West River," Roberts said.

Roberts never lost his rough and tough cowboy mentality, nor his love for politics.  He's no longer actively involved but often sits at his old Congressional desk that he brought back with him from Washington and spends time on Facebook publishing political views.

"Most of it's all pro-Republican.  You know once in awhile I will put something that doesn't look very good for Republicans.  But it's really hard to find something that makes Republicans look bad," Roberts joked.

All kidding aside, the Marlboro Man quit smoking real cigarettes ten years ago, is in pretty good health and still gets recognized.

"Oh yeah, a lot of them do, younger people don't," Roberts said. "A lot of my older friends are gone.  We never get to weddings anymore.  It's always funerals and most of the time it's a going away party for them."

But at age 77, this cowboy isn't ready to ride off into the sunset just yet.

Roberts and his wife Beverly have four kids, six grandchildren and six great grandchildren.

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This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:
A grammatical error was corrected in this story.



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