Debi Austin died Feb. 22 at Valley Presbyterian Hospital in Van Nuys, according to family friend and spokesman Jim Walker. She was 62.
Austin first appeared on television in 1996, telling viewers she began smoking at age 13 and could never quit. In a quiet, halting rasp, Austin told the camera, "They say nicotine isn't addictive," before inhaling from a lit cigarette held to a hole in her throat.
"How can they say that?" Austin asked viewers, as cigarette smoke wafted from the hole.
Called a stoma, the hole in her throat allowed her to breathe after her larynx was removed at age 42.
The TV spot was "the most-recognized and talked about California tobacco control ad," according to the state health department.
"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," said Dr. Ron Chapman, who heads the health department. "She was an inspiration for Californians to quit smoking and also influenced countless others not to start."
Four months after the ad, Austin quit smoking - halting a two- to three-pack-a-day habit. She fought various forms of cancer for the rest of her life. She starred in other ads and spent the rest of her life advocating against the use of tobacco.
"True to Debi's spirit, she was a fighter to the end and leaves a big hole in our hearts and lives. Debi will be remembered fondly by those who love her to be caring, courageous, very funny and always there to offer advice or lend a hand," the family's statement said.
Two Cardinals with St. Louis connections were center stage this morning as Pope Benedict said his final farewell. The Pope says he will pray for his cardinals as they choose his successor.
Cardinal-Emeritus Justin Rigali of Philadelphia, the former and 7th Archbishop of St, Louis, joined Ballwin native Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York in an interview with ABC's "Good Morning America."
George Stephanopoulos asked Rigali about speculation Dolan could be chosen to succeed Pope Benedict XVI:
"Stephanopoulos: He's on everyone's short list just about to be the pope. Rigali Well I think (Dolan laughs) we'll have to let the Holy Spirit decide that (Dolan laughs) You can see he has many virtues."
Benedict met with the cardinals as part of his final day as pontiff before retiring. Benedict promised "unconditional reverence and obedience" to his successor.