Just a few short weeks ago I wrote about his comeback and now the original villain, the bad boy we loved and hated in equal measure, the real reason we watched Dallas - has gone.
Dallas dominated the eighties, the rows, the adultery, the rivalry, the business deals, the alcoholism, the corny lines, JR and Sue Elllen, it had it all, and when we heard it was coming back earlier this year, although the crew tried desperately to make us believe that young John Ross and Christopher were the new JR and Cliff Barnes it would never be the same. I tuned in the first night to see the legend and I was not disappointed to see him sitting there, albeit looking a little frail in a wheelchair in a nursing home in the first episode but JR Ewing aka Larry Hagman still had that glint in his eye and he was ready to fight for his home Southfork.
Born in Fort Worth, Texas, in 1931, Hagman was the son of Broadway music star Mary Martin and lawyer Ben Hagman. His first big television break came with I Dream Of Jeannie, in which he played an astronaut haunted by a beautiful blonde genie.
Then the part that was to change his life came along in 1978 – that of JR Ewing in Dallas in 1978.
This was to see him team up with Linda Gray the woman who would play his onscreen alcoholic wife and together they had great chemistry, with JR delivering classic lines like…. “You’re a drunk, a tramp and an unfit mother!”
The pair remained close friends throughout the decades and how fitting it was that she was by his side as he passed away last Friday at the age of 81.
If JR Ewing lived an exciting life then Larry Hagman lived one to rival it. He battled a long struggle against alcohol and drugs and loved women but was a one woman man after his marriage to his beloved wife Maj in 1954. They had two children Preston and Heidi and five grandchildren. Of their marriage he said ‘My happiness comes from being a husband, father and grandfather of five, not from stardom, which is a fluke.’
At the height of it’s popularity in 1980 some 400 million people in more than 57 countries tuned in to watch JR gunned down in a dramatic closing episode. The Who Shot JR storyline dominated the headlines – the question was everywhere and on everyone’s lips. It even made the news bulletins!
Eventually Larry was faced with ill health and in 1992, he was diagnosed first with cirrhosis and then cancer of the liver, and on August 23, 1995, had a 16-hour liver transplant. ‘As JR I could get away with anything — bribery, blackmail and adultery,’ he said. ‘But cancer caught me.’
The transplant both saved and changed his life. In return he kept a photo of his young donor’s life by his bathroom mirror and thanked him every morning for the gift of life as well as becoming an avid campaigner for organ donation.
After a relapse in 2003 he totally revamped his life and became a vegan and with the support of his wife lived a healthier lifestyle.
However after the discovery of a cancerous tumour on his tongue he fell ill on the set of the show he made his own and died surrounded by his on screen brother Patrick Duffy and Linda Gray last week. Sadly his beloved wife Maj is suffering from Alzeimers and was unable to recognize him at this time. HiS passing is to be written into the script of Dallas.
I had the privilege of meeting Hagman once in Dublin and of all the people I have met in my job his photo has always taken pride of place in my home. He was a gentleman and spoke to me in that charismatic Texan drawl which was so charming and made him such a ladies man.
May he rest in peace.