J.R. Ewing was a business cheat, faithless husband and bottomless well of corruption. Yet with his sparkling grin, Larry Hagman masterfully created the charmingly loathsome oil baron — and coaxed forth a Texas-size gusher of ratings — on television’s long-running and hugely successful nighttime soap, “Dallas.”
Although he first gained fame as nice guy Major Tony Nelson on the fluffy 1965-70 NBC comedy “I Dream of Jeannie,” Hagman earned his greatest stardom with J.R. The CBS serial drama about the Ewing family and those in their orbit aired from April 1978 to May 1991, and broke viewing records with its “Who shot J.R.?” 1980 cliffhanger that left unclear if Hagman’s character was dead.
The actor, who returned as J.R. in a new edition of “Dallas” this year, had a long history of health problems and died Friday due to complications from his battle with cancer, his family said.
“Larry was back in his beloved hometown of Dallas, re-enacting the iconic role he loved the most. Larry’s family and closest friends had joined him in Dallas for the Thanksgiving holiday,” the family said in a statement that was provided to The Associated Press by Warner Bros., producer of the show.
The 81-year-old actor was surrounded by friends and family before he passed peacefully, “just as he’d wished for,” the statement said.
I was never into “Dallas” back in the day, though I admit that the “Who shot JR?” story line drew me in, and I watched the episode that revealed the answer like everyone else in America. It was hard to watch Larry Hagman do anything and not get the impression that he was just having more fun doing what he did than most of the rest of us. I’m sure there will be many great stories told about him in the next few days. Harold Cook, who didn’t know Hagman but knows people who did, has more, and you really owe it to yourself to read Mark Evanier’s Larry Hagman story. Rest in peace, Larry Hagman.