Grizzled, handsome, locally esteemed and internationally recognizable Camel and Marlboro man Bob Beck died at home Tuesday, Aug. 26, 2008, after a difficult battle with cancer. Soft-spoken, gentle-souled Beck, so different in persona from the rough-hewn Indiana-Jones type character that would and often did “walk a mile for a Camel” through the most harrowing elemental obstacles, seldom showed impatience and temper in his post-camera life except over two subjects — protecting the habitat that we share with fellow species, and what he perceived as the hubris and disregard of the current Bush administration for the care and wellbeing of its citizenry.
Said Beck, regarding our shared-planet responsibility, “You have to protect your resources, especially here [in Idyllwild] where we rely upon what comes from the sky. People who don’t care about their environment and the animals are greedy and self-serving. It would be a happier Idyllwild and world if people cared about such things. I really strongly believe if a person loves, respects and takes care of animals — which I put myself on equal footing with, I’m no better or worse than they are — they will respect those around them more. Those who mistreat and don’t respect animals will do the same thing with everything else around them.”
About the second Bush family presidency, Beck fumed, “I’m definitely for any government that takes care of its people and the environment, and cares. But politicians usually like to keep the power and control so that philosophy is usually fiction. But it’s what I’d like. People will disagree, which is part of being in a free society, but I’m definitely opposed to the [George W.] Bush administration. What they’ve tried to do is criminal and self-serving; they don’t have the environment or people at heart. Bush seems to only care about serving corporations’ needs, not serving humankind domestically or internationally.”
Beck was a trusted good friend and neighbor of this writer. In 2003, at the height of the bark beetle crisis when this writer had to remove scores of beetle-ravaged grandfather pines removed from his property, Beck called to offer condolences, gently understanding the sadness that came with the loss of strong, silent and seemingly indestructible friends that had weathered so many years — understanding that life, important and valuable, had passed.
Those who knew and loved big Bob Beck — his soft words, good heart, merry twinkle in his eyes, and love for family and causes that moved him — know that someone important and valuable has passed. He cut a strong, graceful and impressive swath through any crowd through which he passed. He was bigger-than-life and humbly and affably human.
“It is with great sadness that I share the news that Bob Beck died early yesterday morning from cancer,” wrote Associates of Idyllwild Arts Foundation President Jan Goldberg. “He died peacefully, in his sleep, with his dear wife Erin at his side. We will all miss Bob — that deep voice, that smile, the charm and good will that he showed us all. He will always be an inspiration to us of how to live a gentle, sweet life with family, friends and dogs. Bob, we will miss you.”
Beck was born in Oceanside in 1936, bought a cabin in Idyllwild with wife Erin O’Neill in 1981, and moved here full-time in 1997. Of his years as the Camel man, Beck said, “When I did it, I wasn’t that aware of the effects of smoking. This is one of the problems with doing such a campaign. My problem with the cigarette industry was they covered up the problems and didn’t pass them on to the public. For that reason, I wouldn’t do it today.”
Beck leaves behind his wife, Erin; son Matthew; daughters Liza, Kristen and Benedicte; and grandchildren.