TV News: ‘Dallas’ Star Larry Hagman Dies at 81

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DALLAS – Larry Hagman, who created one of the most famous television villains of all time (J.R. Ewing of the TV nighttime soap sensation “Dallas”), passed away on Friday of complications from cancer. He was ironically in Dallas, Texas working on the new version of “Dallas,” which was recently resurrected by TNT.

Hagman was at the center of one the greatest shared nationwide cultural events in 1980 when his “Dallas” character J.R. Ewing was shot at the end of season three. For an entire summer, speculation on “Who Shot J.R.?” was the talk of the country. He parlayed that hype to become one of highest paid television actors in history, and “Dallas” solved the mystery of his shooting on November 21st, 1980 – it was Kristin Shepard, Sue Ellen Ewing’s sister, portrayed by Mary Crosby.

Larry Hagman
Larry Hagman in Chicago, October of 2009
Photo credit: Joe Arce of Starstruck Foto for

Larry Martin Hagman was born in 1931 in Fort Worth, Texas, the son of famed Broadway performer Mary Martin and Benjamin Hagman. After his parents divorced in 1936, Hagman spent most of his childhood between boarding schools and with his grandmother. He ended up in high school in Weatherford, Texas, and began his theater career in Dallas shortly after graduating in 1950. After a stint in the Air Force during the Korean War, he made his Broadway debut in “Comes a Day,” which was also the debut of actor George C. Scott.

Larry Hagman, Barbara Eden
Larry Hagman with Barbara Eden in ‘I Dream of Jeannie’
Photo credit: Sony Pictures Home Entertainment

Hagman’s film debut came in 1964, in the “Mr. Roberts” remake, “Ensign Pulver” – which also featured a young Jack Nicholson. His greatest movie role came very early in his career in the cold war epic, “Fail-Safe” (1964), opposite Henry Fonda. Hagman portrayed a translator for Fonda’s U.S. president character, as he negotiates a situation in which two American planes are about to drop nuclear bombs onto Moscow. The film shows two men in a bland room, talking to an unseen Russian voice. Hagman’s character is both twitchy and moral, doing his job while he knows the world is exploding.

As a result of the buzz from “Fail-Safe,” Hagman got the first television role that he became known for in 1965, that of Major Tony Nelson on the fantasy sitcom, “I Dream of Jeannie,” opposite Barbara Eden. The show lasted five seasons, after which Hagman drifted around in failed TV shows and character parts. He also exacerbated a drinking problem, which would result in a liver transplant in 1995. His life and profile changed forever in 1978, when he took the part of J.R. Ewing, and played the role on the first run of “Dallas” until 1991. He reprised the role this year on the new TNT Network “Dallas” revival and was in the midst of a second season when he passed away.

Larry Hagman is survived by his wife of 58 years, Maj Axelsson, and two children. His co-stars in “Dallas,” Linda Gray and Patrick Duffy, was present at the time of his passing.

In a 2009 interview with Hagman was asked what his famous mother Mary Martin taught him as a actor or a man. In his distinctive Texas drawl, he said, “She always said know your lines, hang up your clothes and stay reasonable sober. Well, I followed two of them anyhow.”

Source material came from Wikipedia and the Dallas Morning News. Larry Hagman, 1931-2012. senior staff writer Patrick McDonald

Senior Staff Writer

© 2012 Patrick McDonald,

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