NEWPORT BEACH — As he lay near death on Monday, Wayne McLaren, who once portrayed the "Marlboro Man" in cigarette advertisements, still refused to give up his one-man crusade against smoking.
"Smoking caught up with me," said the 51-year-old former actor and Hollywood stuntman, who smoked about a pack and a half of cigarettes a day for about 25 years.
"I've spent the last month of my life in an incubator and I'm telling you, it's just not worth it," McLaren said softly. "I'm dying proof that smoking will kill you."
Doctors at Hoag Hospital, where McLaren has been a patient for more than three weeks, say the Corona del Mar man isn't expected to survive the rest of the week.
McLaren's hospitalization last month put an abrupt halt to his one-man crusade against the same product that helped him gain his greatest notoriety in 1975 as a "Marlboro Man." He was one of a several dozen models used to portray the character in a series of print ads.
Before his condition worsened, McLaren had made a series of public appearances to warn children about the health hazards of smoking. He appeared before the Massachusetts Legislature and in a British Broadcasting Corp. documentary called "The Tobacco Wars."
In March, he appeared before a stockholders meeting of Phillip Morris Inc., the manufacturer of the Marlboro brand, and asked them to limit their advertising.
"The advertising is just not fair because it targets the kids," he said. "That's the only target the companies have left."
McLaren was given the diagnosis of lung cancer more than two years ago. He sued a physician who he alleged failed to diagnose his condition when he went for a physical examination in 1989.
Last September, McLaren and physician William Freud agreed to an out-of-court settlement in the case. The terms of the settlement were ordered confidential by the court.
The settlement came after a threat by the judge in the case to declare a mistrial if information about McLaren's association with Phillip Morris was made public.
After an article about the case appeared in The Times Orange County Edition, attorneys on both sides decided to settle.
Last month, McLaren's condition began to worsen dramatically as doctors discovered that the cancer had spread throughout his nervous system. They were unable to continue with chemotherapy treatments because of internal bleeding, family members said.
"He couldn't withstand another round of chemotherapy treatment so the decision was made to allow him to die, which is his wish," said McLaren's brother, Mac, who arrived from Texas Saturday.
Family members said they stand firmly behind McLaren's desire "to devote all of his energy and resources" in an effort to warn others about the dangers of smoking.
As he lay in his hospital bed with several tubes connected to his body, McLaren made his family promise to publish speeches he had written on smoking but grew too ill to deliver.
"Those are the best speeches I've ever written," he said. Then, with a slight smile, he added: "I don't want anybody plagiarizing them."
McLaren's 75-year-old mother, Louise, said her son has always been "very strong-willed."
"He was always determined to accomplish what he set out to do," she said. "It is his wish to write this final chapter."
Family members proudly list the films and television shows in which McLaren appeared, including "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid," "Gunsmoke" and "The Streets of San Francisco."
McLaren said he has "no doubts" that tobacco is responsible for sending him to an early grave. At this point, he said, his only wish is that his death not be in vain.
"I want to be remembered as someone who tried to make a difference and stop people from getting killed," he said. "I want to be remembered as someone who gave a damn."