Saturday, November 24, 2012

A sad goodbye: The great Larry Hagman, gone at 81

Wow, what news to wake up to. We're a little besides ourselves here at BRBTV, signing on to hear the news about this most beloved star of one of our very most beloved TV shows. Mr. Larry Hagman. We knew he wouldn't live forever. We knew he was mortal like the rest of us. But we've joked over the years, as we've been covering "Dallas" and developing our reference guide to the TV show, "Long live the king" and "Long live J.R., and long live Larry Hagman!" Well, he did live long, he enjoyed a wonderful career, and he had a fabulous last hurrah, doing the thing that he loved most, playing the character that had changed his life, for one last time in the "Dallas" reboot.

It’s not hard to believe that the man who portrayed the unstoppable J.R. Ewing was Texas-born — Fort Worth, as a matter of fact, a town that got lots of mention on “Dallas.” As a young boy, he worked as a ranchhand, according to Wikipedia. And while “Dallas” was still airing, he even hosted a documentary series on the history of Texas, in celebration of its 150th anniversary as an independent republic.

Larry Hagman was born on September 21, 1931. His dad was an attorney and his mom, Mary Martin, was about to embark on a successful career on Broadway. In fact it was his mother, so well-known for her role as Peter Pan, who got Hagman into acting as a teen.

It was the stage where Hagman first got his acting chops. He spent five years in England as part of his mother’s successful production of “South Pacific,” according to his official website. He joined the U.S. Air Force, reportedly as a way to avoid being pulled into the fighting of the Korean War, and produced and directed shows for the military. While there, he met the gal who would become his wife, Maj Axelsson, a Swedish clothing designer. They married in 1954. That Hagman sustained a 50-plus-year marriage in Hollywood is certainly testament to his character and strength.

Along came the small screen for Hagman, back in the U.S. Besides his second-best-known role as Major Tony Nelson on Sidney Sheldon’s wildly popular comedy “I Dream of Jeannie,” he did stints on “The Edge of Night,” “Night Gallery” and “Love, American Style.” But then came the decision that would change his life, in 1977 — a decision to which he credits Maj. A lil’ ole show called “Dallas,” on which his J.R. Ewing wasn’t even planned as the main star but quickly became it. Hagman said the day the “Who Shot J.R.?” episode aired (“Who Done It?”, November 21, 1980) was one of the two dates he would never forget (the other was the day of his well-publicized 1995 liver transplant).

And we won’t forget, either. The man who defined J.R. for us also defined power, corruption, cunning, suaveness ... so many things. How ironic, as psychologist and author Lew Ryder put it, that the man we loved to hate was so well-loved around the country, and world. Wikipedia notes that Hagman was the only “Dallas” actor to appear in almost all of the show’s original 357 episodes (his contract negotiations kept him physically off the set for the fourth-season opener “No More Mister Nice Guy,” Part 1, though his character was present in the storyline).

Known as a hard worker since his days on “Jeannie,” Hagman was nominated for various Emmys, Golden Globes and Soap Opera Digest awards over the years, and he nabbed several of those. But while his career was skyrocketing, Hagman’s personal life was marked by the use of several artificial substances — alcohol, LSD, marijuana — and he spoke out about that very frankly. At the same time, though, Hagman’s life was also marked by some very close Hollywood friendships: co-star Patrick Duffy, Peter Fonda, Carroll O’Connor, the Who drummer Keith Moon.

In 1991, when “Dallas” left its original run on CBS, Hagman kept involved with not only screenwork (the “Dallas” reunion movies, of course, along with roles in big-screen stuff like “Nixon” and “Primary Colors”) but also with more charitable and civic endeavors. He has lent a hand to the American Cancer Society with antismoking campaigns. He has represented the National Kidney Foundation. And he adopted a “Don’t worry, be happy, feel good” way of living at his ranch in Ojai, California.

In October 2011, amid plans for the “Dallas” reboot on TNT, Hagman announced a cancer diagnosis. He told the Associated Press, “As we all know, you can't keep J.R. down!” Yea, we knew it. And Hagman spent the first season on the show, as vital and relevant as ever, basking in the glow that is "Dallas" one more time. We loved it. We ate it up. It wouldn't have been "Dallas" if J.R. wouldn't have been there. And should the show go on, as they say, his spectre will be there, even more sure and strong than the one of Jim Davis as Jock Ewing, who passed on early in the original show's run.

The July 27, 2012 cover of Entertainment Weekly was rather triumphant for a man who announced a cancer diagnosis less than a year earlier. The cover story noted that Hagman was pronounced cancer-free in the spring before the “Dallas” reboot’s premiere. TNT president Michael Wright said, “Larry looked me in the eye and said, ‘Whaddya think, 10 seasons.” So yes, long live Hagman, as BRBTV has always said. 

Magazine covers, diagnoses and show reboots notwithstanding, he will always live on.

BRBTV offers condolences to Hagman's wife, Maj, and his whole family. And we continue to admire this man who was smart, shrewd, wonderfully talented, and exceedingly kind.

First photo courtesy of Josh Eilberg of, depicting Hagman and his wife, Maj, in the midst of appearances for the TNT "Dallas" reboot. Second photo courtesy of Larry Hagman, a photo of his younger days used for the "Destination: Dallas" book. Third photo courtesy of Josh Eilberg, depicting the display of J.R.'s gun at Southfork Ranch. Thanks very much, Josh.

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