Debi Austin, who helped raise awareness of the dangers of smoking in the mid-1990s after losing her larynx, died on Friday in California. She was 62.
In one public service anti-smoking campaign, dubbed the "Voicebox" ad, Austin puffed on a cigarette through a hole about the size of a half-dollar coin in her throat.
Her family said she passed away after a 20-year battle with cancer at the Valley Presbyterian Hospital in Van Nuys, the Los Angeles Times reported.
In a statement, California Department of Public Health Director and State Public Health Officer Ron Chapman said, “Debi was a pioneer in the fight against tobacco and showed tremendous courage by sharing her story to educate Californians on the dangers of smoking. She was an inspiration for Californians to quit smoking and also influenced countless others not to start.”
Austin, who said she had her first cigarette at age 13, recounted how she tried and failed to quit smoking. In addition to the "Voicebox" ad, she would go on to appear in several other commercials for Tobacco Free California, including “Stages” and “Candles.”
Austin also appeared at schools, universities, council meetings and prisons to discuss the dangers of nicotine addiction. In 2010, she told the L.A. Times, “I am the walking dead, the castoff of the tobacco industry that they can't fix, they can't heal.”
Austin is survived by two sisters and a brother.
The “Voicebox” ad can be viewed here.