By Elizabeth C.
TV‘S J.R. EWING, THE DIABOLICAL TEXAS OIL BARON WHO DOMINEERED the prime time soap opera Dallas, has finally been bested: actor Larry Hagman has died at the age of 81 from complications of throat cancer.
“As J.R. I could get away with anything — bribery, blackmail and adultery”, Hagman said last year. “But I got caught by cancer.”
The actor was declared dead at 4:20 p.m. Friday at Medical City Dallas Hospital. His death closes an unconventional life that included boarding school, LSD advocacy, a liver transplant and starring roles in two internationally popular television shows.
In addition to playing the wily J.R., the Texas native also played the hapless “Master” Major Anthony “Tony” Nelson in the fanciful 60’s sitcom, I Dream of Jeannie.
But it was as J.R. that Hagman transformed from celebrity into iconic character. The series Dallas ran for 14 seasons on CBS, dominating ratings from 1980 through 1986. Even after the show’s viewership began to soften, it still remained one of television’s most-watched series, with seasons often culminating in cliffhangers. The most famous of these was the “Who shot J.R.?” storyline, which became America’s ultimate water cooler conversation in 1980, now warranting its own Wikipedia page entitled A House Divided. The follow-up episode that revealed the shooter drew the single-largest television audience — 90 million — up to that time.
Even though he was ill, Hagman revived his role as the diabolical J.R. for a 2012 TNT reboot of the Dallas series. “Larry Hagman was a giant, a larger-than-life personality whose iconic performance as J.R. Ewing will endure as one of the most indelible in entertainment history,” Warner Bros., the studio behind the show, said in a statement released on behalf of the new series’ executive producers Cynthia Cidre and Michael M. Robin, and cast and crew.
Hagman once claimed that LSD transformed his life. “LSD was such a profound experience in my life that it changed my pattern of life and my way of thinking and I could not exclude it,” he revealed. Heavy drinking later necessitated a liver transplant that extended his life.
Hagman’s parents divorced when he was five, and he spent the next eight years bouncing between his actress mover and his grandmother. He discovered acting in high school and pursued it after graduation. In 1954, he married Maj Axellson with whom he had a son and daughter. All three survive him.
“Larry’s family and close friends had joined him in Dallas for the Thanksgiving holiday,” the family said in a statement. “When he passed, he was surrounded by loved ones [including Dallas co-star Patrick Duffy]. It was a peaceful passing, just as he had wished for.”