It’s a sad day in Hollywood — and across the planet. Larry Hagman, who became a TV star in the 1960s on the sitcom I Dream of Jeannie, and went on to play the villainous oil baron on Dallas (and again on TNT’s reboot of the show), died Nov. 23 at a Dallas hospital. He was 81.
I was just starting my work-life in the 1980s and remember how much fun it was to watch Dallas every week and then dish the dirt with my co-workers the next day. Now I want to watch it all over again.
If you were around in the 1980s, you were probably one of the 300 million viewers who saw J.R. Ewing get shot by that unseen assailant on Dallas. The season-ending plot twist is credited with popularizing the TV cliffhanger, but it really turned Larry Hagman, who portrayed the character on the prime-time soap from 1978 to 1991, into a household name.
In fact, the buzz about the shooting was so intense that when Hagman met the Queen Mother, she asked him, “Who shot J.R.?”
“Not even for you, ma’am,” he replied. Talk about dedication to your show.
A year ago, he announced his second bout with cancer, but he’s had his share of health troubles over the years. Decades of drinking led to cirrhosis of the liver and, after a cancer diagnosis in 1995, a life-saving liver transplant.
He said once that he drank his way through , noting that champagne was “his poison.” He’d uncork a bottle by 9 a.m. and drink all day. It’s hard to imagine working like that, isn’t it?
“The drinking sometimes made it harder to remember lines, but I liked that constant feeling of being mildly loaded,” he told People magazine in 1995.
The son of Mary Martin, the legendary star of Broadway musicals who originated the role of Peter Pan in the 1950s, Hagman once said that J.R. Ewing was a composite of “all those good old boys” he’d known growing up “who caught more flies with honey instead of vinegar.”
“I liked the premise of Jeannie, he wrote in his book. “It was good, wholesome, escapist fun, with a healthy dose of sexual tension.”
Rest in peace, Larry. Thank you for many decades of TV fun.