Monday, November 26, 2012

Larry Hagman, RIP

This past Friday, I was clearing episodes of the revived Dallas series off my DVR, and I offhandedly thought to myself how I hoped Larry Hagman's health would hold out so he could continue to work his wily ways as the duplicitous, magnetic J.R. Ewing for several years yet. Little did I know that Hagman, a true TV icon if ever there was one, had actually already passed away, losing a battle with throat cancer despite the best hopes when it was diagnosed last fall that he'd win that fight like he'd won so many others throughout his 81 years, including bouts with alcoholism and liver disease.

Though Hagman probably made just as much a mark on TV auds as Major Tony Nelson, the astronaut who gets "stuck" with the magical Barbara Eden in I Dream of Jeannie, which ran from 1965 to 1970, it was his Dallas run -- initially envisioned as a short-term supporting turn -- that truly cemented his place in the pantheon. For fourteen seasons, from 1978 to 1992, and 357 episodes (more than any other
actor in the cast), Hagman worked his black (gold) magic on the the rest of the Ewing clan, his war of wills with noble brother Bobby (Patrick Duffy) providing the dramatic spine the entire series hung on.

After Dallas ended, other than a few other projects, Hagman mostly receded into the distance as he worked through his substance abuse issues. He did, however, revive J.R. for two late '90s telefilms, and then of course for the new TV series that premiered on TNT last summer. While this incarnation of the character took a backseat to his not-far-from-the-tree offspring John Ross (Josh Henderson), Hagman's presence was felt, in big ways and small, in all ten episodes of the revived show's first season, and he'd already filmed a decent chunk of the second at the time of his passing.

By all accounts, Hagman was just as shrewd of a negotiator as J.R. and had just as refined a fashion sense, but beyond that was as different as different could be. To get a sense of the man, here's a wonderful, vivid remembrance from TV writer Mark Evanier. Right now, the Dallas creatives are busily working to come up with a way to pay fitting tribute to both actor and character when the show returns early next year, and they've certainly got their work cut out for them. While Larry Hagman leaves Dallas poorer for his absence, he leaves the history of television richer for having passed through it.


J.R. LeMar said...

It speaks volumes that there is not a single scandal about him, or anyone that knew him that has anything bad to say about him. Everybody loved the guy. That is incredibly rare for a celebrity, especially one who was as big as he was during his prime.

Zaki said...

Yep, very true. Seems like he understood both the advantages and price of his fame.

J. Duncan Cook said...

Way before the internet, I remember "Who shot J.R.?" being a powerful meme that rivaled the slogans of the burger wars of that time. I loved that guy.