The California public-awareness ad turned Debi Austin into a memorable symbol of the anti-smoking movement, and she dedicated herself to education and advocacy until her death Friday, following a 20-year battle with cancer. She was 62.
In the early 1980s, she sought treatment for a chronic sore throat and in 1992 a biopsy of a lump confirmed cancer of the larynx. "I'd never met or heard anyone who'd had a laryngectomy," she told The Los Angeles Times in 1997. "I thought, 'Omigod, I make my living on the telephone and now I'm going to sound like Elmer Fudd on Thorazine for the rest of my life.'"
She agreed to make the jarring "Voicebox" ad only after her young niece drew a black dot on her own neck to mimic her aunt's scar and said: "I want to be like you."
California Department of Health officials said Austin was California's best known anti-tobacco advocate and noted that her "Voicebox" ad is "the most-recognized and talked about California tobacco control ad," according to a statement released after her death.
In recent years, Austin often traveled to spread her anti-smoking message to young people. She also made two more anti-smoking ads that began airing in 2011.