PIERRE, S.D. — Former U.S. Rep. Clint Roberts, a South Dakota rancher who corralled cowboy roles on television and auditioned to be the “Marlboro Man,” a nickname that stuck in Congress, has died. He was 82.
The former Republican congressman and South Dakota agriculture secretary died early yesterday at a hospital in Pierre from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, according to his daughter-in-law, Pam Roberts.
Clint Roberts once owned a 5,000-acre cattle and wheat ranch near Presho, in central South Dakota, and represented the state’s western 2nd Congressional District from 1981 to 1983. He lost re-election when reapportionment left South Dakota with only one U.S. House seat in a fight of incumbents with then-Rep. Tom Daschle, a Democrat.
“I am a cowboy. I am a rancher — a working one. It’s very much a part of our state, the image I carry here,” Roberts told The Associated Press in 1981. “It’s a tough country, South Dakota. Over many years, only the strong survived so the ones that got left there are just super people.”
Roberts received the nickname “the Marlboro Man” in Washington, although his tryout photographs never made the grade. But he did earn several cowboy roles. In one beer commercial, he herded buffalo and actor Telly Savalas gulped beer. In another, Roberts and pals sipped beer around a campfire.
He also did tourism promotions for South Dakota and narrated a Kodak documentary called “The Plains.” He had a bit part as a culprit in a made-for-TV movie called “Orphan Train.” Roberts also was a past director of the state’s Cowboy Hall of Fame.
In 1980, Roberts and five friends got on horses and rode up two flights of steps and busted into a fancy ball in the state Capitol rotunda.
“Yup. I was dressed in a full length buffalo coat,” Roberts said. “But it was all staged for the 100th anniversary of Pierre, and riding with us was the mayor and state auditor.”
South Dakota Gov. Dennis Daugaard said in a statement that Roberts brought good humor and common sense to his work throughout his years in public service.
“South Dakota lost one of its favorite cowboys,” U.S. Sen. John Thune tweeted.