Jeff Smith 11:38 a.m., Sept. 27
As a student of I Dream of Jeannie who never made it all the way through an episode of Dallas, consider me a member of Team Tony, not Team J.R.
Larry Hagman, the eccentric, outspoken (except on Sundays) actor best know for taking a bullet in the soap opera cliffhanger watched 'round the world is dead. Hagman died in Dallas where he was hard at work reprising the character of J.R. Ewing on the current small screen reboot. The cause of death is listed as complications arising from cancer. He was 81.
His mother was Mary Martin, Broadway's Peter Pan, and his father, Benjamin Jackson "Jack" Hagman, was an accountant and a district attorney. The couple divorced in 1936 when little Larry was only five.
With a handful of TV roles under his belt -- he first appeared in Decoy (1957) and spent three years on the daytime soap, The Edge of Night-- Hagman made the leap to the silver screen in The Cavern (1964) under the tutelage of none other than that Poverty Row Picasso, Edgar G. Ulmer.
Long before viewers voted J.R. Ewing "the man you love to hate," Larry Hagman had built a career playing bit roles in omnibus series (Kraft Theatre, The United States Steel Hour) and as military types in theatrical features (Fail Safe, Ensign Pulver, In Harm's Way).
The uniform fit him well. When it came time to fill the part of Major Anthony 'Tony' Nelson on I Dream of Jeannie, Hagman was a shoe-in. Viewers would eventually tune-in strictly to watch Hagman chew the scenery on Dallas, but in the case of Jeannie, it was Barbara Eden's navel that fans dreamed of.
Hagman never received a residual check for his work on Jeannie, a mistake he was not going to repeat when Dallas rolled around. Some of Ewing's ruthless business tactics must have rubbed off: Hagman negotiated a record salary with residual deals.
There was a well-publicized bout with alcohol that led to an eventual liver transplant in 1995. It was his Malibu neighbor, Jack Nicholson, who first turned Hagman on to pot as a safer alternative to heavy boozing. Hagman liked what he smoked and later told an interviewer, "Marijuana is like being compared to alcohol and when you come right down to it, alcohol destroys your body and makes you do violent things, but with grass, you just sit back and enjoy life."
Hagman dug pot, not tobacco. After years of constant puffing (and the transplant), the actor became an aggressive one-man anti-smoking campaign.
For many years, Hagman refused to speak on Sunday. In 2000, he told the official Dallas website, "I don't do it as often as I used to. I don't do it as often as I want to. But that was when I was working and I haven't been working as much recently. It wasn't anything religious, it was just to rest my voice."
His family posted this statement on Hagman's website: "Larry was back in his beloved Dallas re-enacting the iconic role he loved most. 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."
More like this:
- Ex-CPA Anton Ewing visits familiar grounds: court — Aug. 21, 2015
- Sideways on Tenth — Aug. 27, 2013
- A Tribute To J.R. — Aug. 11, 2011
- Quarterbacks in the NFL -- one helps homeless, one has dog fights — Nov. 24, 2008
- Tipsy joggers — Feb. 19, 2004