The world lost one of the greats when actor Larry Hagman (Dallas, I Dream Of Jeannie) passed away last Friday in Dallas due to complications from throat cancer.
As the son of Broadway star and Peter Pan icon Mary Martin, a muse of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s, originating the roles of Nellie Forbush (South Pacific) and Maria Von Trapp (The Sound of Music); Hagman seemed destined to forge a couple iconic paths of his own to the tune of Major Nelson (I Dream Of Jeannie) and, of course, the dastardly yet charming Texas oil baron J.R. Ewing (Dallas).
Hagman started his acting career in 1957 in little known shows and in ’61 spent two years on The Edge of Night before scoring his first iconic role in 1965 as Major Nelson to Barbara Eden’s genie/Jeannie in I Dream of Jeannie and to this day is still so well loved that it’s IMPOSSIBLE to find ANY clip under 8 minutes that do the show justice (and trust me, there aren’t any, I looked) so I’m gonna respect that, too.
Hagman and Barbara Eden
For those of you who loved it and for those of you who’ve never seen an episode, here’s part one of the pilot episode a.k.a. the “origin” story.
Running for five seasons and hitting the Top 30 in its first year, Nelson and Jeannie gave rivals Bewitched and My Favorite Martian a run for its proverbial money before ending in 1970.
But it was seven years later that the entire WORLD would forever associate him with the man you either loved, hated or both. And to think this almost didn’t happen as Hagman was offered two roles that year; Joe Casey, a washed up NBA star turned teacher in a sitcom called The Waverly Wonders and the ridiculously good looking and charming cutthroat in the Stetson hat, J.R. Ewing in Dallas.
After his wife urged him to read the pilot script, they both decided that J.R. was a PERFECT role for him. Hagman chose well as The Waverly Wonders (with NFL star Joe Namath in the lead role) lasted a mere five episodes and honestly, is a sitcom NO ONE remembers.
Ever the professional, Hagman took it one step further and based J.R.’s character on something he had witnessed while working one summer for oil-field equipment makers Antelope Oil Tool and Manufacturing, where the founder’s eldest son challenged his father for (and won) control of the company.
And it was here that Hagman’s life changed forever.
At the height of the series, Dallas was seen in over 90 countries and inspired several other nighttime soaps but the REAL fever pitch began in 1980 when J.R.’s wheeling, dealing, scheming and betraying of everyone (including members of his own family) finally caught up with him and got him shot in the season two finale, leaving the entire world wondering “Who shot J.R.?”
The culprit was finally revealed on November 21, 1980 (no, I’m not gonna tell you), three weeks into season 3 but what some don’t know is that if the contract negotiations hadn’t gone well that J.R. would’ve been killed off. Luckily for us, Hagman prevailed and became one of the highest-paid stars in television.
After being nominated for MULTIPLE awards – two Emmy, four Golden Globe and seven Soap Opera Digest Awards (where he won five, including one for Outstanding Actor in a Comic Relief Role on a Prime Time Serial), Hagman is the ONLY actor to appear in all 357 episodes of Dallas when it ended its run in 1991. He also guest starred on the spinoff Knots Landing five times as well as made an appearance in the two Dallas tv movies: J.R. Returns (1996) and War of The Ewings (1998).
Plagued with health problems, Hagman had a liver transplant in August of ’95 after being diagnosed with liver cancer the month before. This also drove him to quit his heavy smoking habit and did several PSAs urging people to quit and others to never start. He also served as chairman of the American Cancer Society’s “Great American Smokeout” and did work for the National Kidney Foundation.
Hagman has appeared in SO many films and tv shows (including Superman in 1978, Nip/Tuck in 2006 and Desperate Housewives in 2011) it’s unreal but I gotta say I rejoiced when it was announced that Hagman had signed on to return to Southfork Ranch as everyone’s favorite villain in the 2011 reboot and I consumed every minute he was on screen like I hadn’t eaten for days. Hagman’s always had a presence that couldn’t be denied yet was so giving that every actor I know (including myself) dreamed of working with him some day.
In 2011 while filming Dallas, Hagman announced that he had stage 2 throat cancer…the disease that ultimately took his life.
“As J.R., I could get away with anything — bribery, blackmail and adultery. But I got caught by cancer. I do want everyone to know that it is a very common and treatable form of cancer. I will be receiving treatment while working on the new Dallas series. I could not think of a better place to be than working on a show I love, with people I love.”
Hagman passed away surrounded by friends and family who’d come to Dallas for Thanksgiving weekend. Those at his bedside when he died included Dallas co-stars Linda Gray (Sue Ellen Ewing), who Hagman called his “best friend for 35 years” and Patrick Duffy (Bobby Ewing), who said of Hagman:
“Friday I lost one of the greatest friends ever to grace my life. The loneliness is only what is difficult, as Larry’s peace and comfort is always what is important to me, now as when he was here. He was a fighter in the gentlest way, against his obstacles and for his friends. I wear his friendship with honor.”
from left: Patrick Duffy, Linda Gray and Hagman
Hagman was born in Texas and died in Texas…pretty fitting for a man I’ve always regarded as the perfect template of a “Southern Gentleman”.
As a child, I had the HUGEST crush on J.R. Ewing…even as he slapped Sue Ellen or did some mean and nasty thing to Bobby. I just couldn’t help myself and so it seems, neither could the rest of the world.
I leave you with some of Hagman’s finest on-screen moments as J.R. Ewing.
You will be missed, Hoss.
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