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Obituary: Larry Hagman

Larry Hagman

Obituary by Jack Foley

LARRY Hagman, best known to millions of TV viewers around the world as JR Ewing in hit soap Dallas, has died at the age of 81.

According to a family statement, the actor passed away in hospital on Friday (November 23, 2012), “surrounded by loved ones”.

The statement added: “Larry was back in his beloved Dallas, re-enacting the iconic role he loved most.”

Born on September 21, 1931, in Fort Worth, Texas, Hagman was the son of an accountant and district attorney. His mother, Mary Virginia Martin, later became a Broadway actress.

However, following his parents divorce in 1936, Hagman later moved to Los Angeles where he was cared for mainly by his grandmother.

After a brief period spent working in the fields and on a ranch owned by a friend of his father, Hagman followed his mother into showbusiness and even toured with her.

Hence, when Martin brought South Pacific to London’s West End, Hagman was in the chorus.

His early years in showbusiness were spent, again, in Texas, working as a production assistant and acting in small roles in Margo Jones’ Theater in 1950.

But in 1952 he was drafted into the US Air Force and served during the Korean War, during which time he was stationed in London and regularly entertained the troops.

Upon leaving the Air Force, he continued to pursue a career in acting, guest starring in a lot of TV shows, before finally hitting the jackpot in 1965 when he landed the plumb role of astronaut Tony Nelson in the comedy I Dream of Jeannie.

The show ran until 1970, and continues to be shown on TV networks around the world.

Eight years after that, he landed the role that would define his career – as JR Ewing in a new series designed to showcase the talents of actress Victoria Principal.

Dallas came to define the ’80s and was a hit around the world as countless viewers tuned in to see the various scheming exploits of JR. At the height of the show’s popularity, in November 1980, more than 350 million viewers world-wide tuned in to discover the answer to one of the decade’s biggest questions: ‘Who Shot JR?’

The storyline prompted a front page headline in The Sun and in Turkey, the parliament even adjourned early so that members could get home to their television sets to find out the answer.

In an unprecedented move at the time, the crew shot several alternative scenes to start the new series to keep the identity of the killer under wraps until the very last moment – prompting several cast members to admit to their surprise when it turned out to be Kristin, JR’s sister-in-law and one of his spurned lovers.

Dallas finished in 1991 and saw Hagman being offered a lot of villain roles. But as this went against his softer real-life persona, the actor admitted to growing frustarted at the limited opportunities.

He did, however, appear in films such as Primary Colors and Nixon.

Away from the screen, Hagman was a man who liked to live life to the full, much like the excesses afforded to JR. His biography, Hello Darlin’, revealed details of drug taking in his youth and a 50-year battle with alcoholism.

On the set of Dallas, for instance, he admitted to consuming five bottles of champagne a day for years.

He was eventually diagnosed with cirrhosis of the liver in 1992 and had a liver transplant three years later.

In spite of this, Hagman continued to drink secretly until a further life-saving operation in 2003 forced him to stop.

Most recently, Hagman made a surprise return to the show he loved, reprising his role of JR in a new series of Dallas that introduced a new generation of Ewings, as well as bringing back old favourites such as Bobby (Patrick Duffy) and Sue Ellen (Linda Gray).

The show attracted 6.8 million viewer for its debut episode in the US in June, and aired in the UK on Channel 5. A second series has been commissioned.

However, Hagman had earler been diagnosed with stage 2 throat cancer and revealed in a statement: “As J.R. I could get away with anything — bribery, blackmail and adultery. But I got caught by cancer. I do want everyone to know that it is a very common and treatable form of cancer. I will be receiving treatment while working on the new Dallas series. I could not think of a better place to be than working on a show I love, with people I love.”

These comments were echoed by his long-term Dallas co-star Ms Gray, who said in a statement: “Larry Hagman was my best friend for 35 years. He was the Pied Piper of life and brought joy to everyone he knew. He was creative, generous, funny, loving and talented and I will miss him enormously. He was an original and lived life to the full.”

Hagman is survived by his wife, Maj Axelsson, and two children, Heidi Kristina and Preston.