Friday, November 23, 2012

Larry Hagman Dead at 81

Larry Hagman - Photo: Mark Seliger/TNT
Larry Hagman, who played the conniving and mischievous J.R. Ewing on the TV show DALLAS, died Friday at Medical City in Dallas, of complications from his recent battle with cancer, his family said. He was 81.

Hagman made television history on November 21, 1980 when over 350 million fans in 57 countries were glued to their television sets to find out Who Shot J.R.? on the hit show DALLAS. On June 13, 2012 he returned to the role of J.R. in the new TNT version of the show.

“Larry was back in his beloved Dallas re-enacting the iconic role he loved most,” his family said in a written statement. “Larry’s family and close friends had joined him in Dallas for the Thanksgiving holiday. When he passed, he was surrounded by loved ones. It was a peaceful passing, just as he had wished for. The family requests privacy at this time.”

Hagman was born in Fort Worth, Texas on September 21, 1931 the son of actress Mary Martin and attorney Ben Hagman. When his parents divorced, he moved to Los Angeles to live with his grandmother. After his grandmother's death, Hagman, who was only 12, returned to live with his mother, who had remarried and was pursuing a successful Broadway career. He later went to live with his father and graduated from Weatherford High School.

The Edge of Night
After a year at Bard College in Anandale-on-Hudson, New York, Hagman decided to follow in his mother's theatrical footsteps. His first professional stage experience was with the Margo Jones Theatre-in-the-Round in Dallas, Texas. He next appeared in the New York City Center production of Taming the Shrew, followed by a year in regional theatre.

Hagman moved to England as a member of the cast of his mother's big stage hit, "South Pacific," and stayed for five years. There he joined the U.S. Air Force, where he produced and directed several shows for members of the service.

While stationed in England, Hagman met and married Maj Axelsson (December, 1954), a young Swedish designer who Hagman insisted was "the best thing that ever happened to me."

After completing his military service, Hagman returned to New York for a series of Broadway and Off-Broadway plays, including "Once Around the Block," "Career," "Comes A Day," "A Priest in the House," "The Warm Peninsula" and "The Nervous Set."

On television, he played Curt Williams in SEARCH FOR TOMORROW.  In 1961 he joined the cast of THE EDGE OF NIGHT as policeman turned attorney Ed Gibson (he had played a smaller role on EDGE in the past). Doing a live daytime serial proved to be great, if difficult, training for the young actor. Hagman had to learn a new script every day, developing instincts and techniques that would serve him well for decades to come. During his run on THE EDGE OF NIGHT, Hagman started to become recognized by the public. Once, while walking in New York with his mother, they were approached by two women looking for autographs. They showed little interest in Mary, but recognized Hagman from the soap and wanted his autograph.

I Dream of Jeannie
During the run of THE EDGE OF NIGHT, on May 2, 1962, Larry and Maj's son, Preston Benjamin Axel Hagman, was born. Towards the end of 1962, Hagman joined the cast of the comedy "The Beauty Part," starring Bert Lahr, first in Pennsylvania, then on Broadway. He left EDGE when the show reached Broadway, since it had all the makings of a major hit. Unfortunately, there was a newspaper strike, preventing the good reviews from being published. The show closed after only three months. All was not lost, however. Director Sidney Lumet saw the show, was impressed with Hagman's performance, and asked him to be in his next film, Fail-Safe.

After eight years in New York, Hagman decided to pack up his family - - which then included a daughter, Heidi Kristina Mary and a son, Preston - and moved to Hollywood.

Hagman became a true TV star in 1965 in the comedy series I DREAM OF JEANNIE in which he played an amiable astronaut whose life is plagued by a beautiful blonde genie, portrayed by Barbara Eden.

It was not until 1977, when DALLAS came along, however, that Hagman's career took off again. He credited 'Superchick' (his affectionate name for Maj) for persuading him to do the series. This saga of an excessively rich Texas family, was one of the boldest, brassiest, most talked-about shows ever and, Hagman Hagman, as the despicable, corrupt, merciless, millionaire J.R. Ewing, the man everyone loved to hate, was its centerpiece. The series ran for an unprecedented 13 seasons (from 1978 - 1991) and the Who shot J.R.? episode remains the second highest rated TV show in the history of the medium.

Hagman appeared in dozens of television shows including LOVE AMERICAN STYLE, MARCUS WELBY, M.D., DESPERATE HOUSEWIVES, NIP/TUCK, and playing J.R. Ewing in DALLAS spin-off KNOTS LANDING.

He appeared in many TV movies of the week including the DALLAS reunion movies, Three's a Crowd, Hurricane and Intimate Strangers.

His film roles included Primary Colors, The Cavern, Ensign Pulver, Nixon and The Flight of the Swan.

He served as executive producer for 74 episodes of DALLAS, and directed many episodes of the series.

Since his name had become synonymous with Texas, it was fitting that he host "Lone Star," an eight-part documentary series on the history of Texas, for PBS. The series, which aired in the fall of 1985, celebrated the 150th anniversary of Texas as an independent republic.

In April 1987, Karl-Lorimar released "Hagman — Stop Smoking for Life." Proceeds from the instructional home video went to the American Cancer Society.

In 1992, A life-threatening situation arised, Hagman was diagnosed with Cirrhosis of the liver and few years later a cancerous tumor developed. On August 23, 1995, Hagman underwent a liver transplant that took 16 hours and saved his life.

A little more than a year later, in November 1996, Hagman starred in "Dallas: JR Returns", two-hour television movie which was a ratings blockbuster for CBS as well as in the network's one-hour, drama series "Orleans". His portrayal of Judge Luther Charbonnet garnered some of the best reviews of his career.

Mike Nichols' Primary Colors film opened March 20, 1998 and starred John Travolta, Emma Thompson, Billy Bob Thornton, Kathy Bates and Adrian Lester. Hagman received unanimous raves from the critics for his stirring performance as Governor Picker and rumblings of a possible Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actor were abound. Primary Colors is Hagman's second 'presidential' film having also appeared in Oliver Stone's Nixon.

Off-screen, Hagman was actively involved in numerous civic and philanthropic activities. An adamant non-smoker, Hagman was chairperson of the American Cancer Society's Great American Smokeout from 1981 to 1992.

During the summer of 1996, Hagman served as the National Spokesperson for the 1996 U.S. Transplant Games presented by the National Kidney Foundation and, on November 2nd, received the foundation's Public Service Award for his efforts in heightening public awareness of the importance of organ donation. He continues to serve as an advocate of organ donation and transplantation.

In 2006 Hagman participated in the Love Ride 23 Harley Davidson in Glendale, California. That year's event raised a record 1.7 million dollars for charities dedicated to improving the quality of life for those less fortunate.

In October 2011 he discovered a tumor on his tongue and was diagnosed with Cancer of the tongue. He underwent six weeks of chemo and radiation and continued to work the whole time while filming the new “Dallas” series. In March of 2012 the cancer of the tongue was in remission and Hagman was back to an even busier schedule doing the press for the launch of the continuation of the new DALLAS.

“Life is terminal, death is not,” Hagman said in a 1980 interview. “I think death is just another stage of our development. I honestly believe that we don’t just disappear. We don’t go into a void. I think we’re part of a big energy curtain, an energy wave, in which we are like molecules.”

- J.R. Ewing's Best Moments (Video)
- Larry Hagman In THE EDGE OF NIGHT (Classic Clips)


  1. You could say his life came full circle at the very end because he was able to pass the torch to the next generation of prime time soap stars. RIP to the man behind the most iconic prime time soap character of all time.

  2. RIP Mr. Hagman and thanks for the many years of entertainment.

    You know there's actually surviving footage of him when he was on The Edge of Night (ca. 1961-63)!

    He played lawyer, Ed Gibson, married to Judi Marceau Gibson (Joan Harvey), who was "the troublemaking daughter of Police Chief Bill Marceau (Mandel Kramer).