UPDATE: Larry Hagman who played the conniving villainous J.R. — head of the oil-rich and powerful Ewing clan on both the original an recent sequel of the world popular TV series Dallas - died this afternoon at Medical City in Dallas. The cause was cited as recent complications from a year-long bout with cancer. He was 81. “Larry was back in his beloved Dallas re-enacting the iconic role he loved most,” his family said in a written statement. “Larry’s family and close friends had joined him in Dallas for the Thanksgiving holiday. When he passed, he was surrounded by loved ones.” Deadline has learned that among those at his bedside were his longtime Dallas co-stars Linda Gray and Patrick Duffy.
Few actors can portray good and evil, comedy and drama, but Hagman did both with ease. Though he rocketed to fame playing astronaut Air Force Maj Tony Nelson on the iconic sitcom I Dream Of Jeannie which is still playing in syndication. But this son of Broadway legend Mary Martin shot to super-stardom again in Dallas which became the biggest TV program in the world from 1979 through 1991, seen by an estimated 300 million people in 57 countries.
Hagman had filmed six of Dallas‘ 15 episodes of the TNT sequel’s second season set to return on January 28th. A joint statement issued by the studio Warner Bros TV and executive producers Cynthia Cidre and Michael M. Robin as well as the cast and crew said: “Larry Hagman was a giant, a larger-than-life personality whose iconic performance as J.R. Ewing will endure as one of the most indelible in entertainment history,” the statement said. “He truly loved portraying this globally recognized character, and he leaves a legacy of entertainment, generosity and grace. Everyone at Warner Bros and in the Dallas family is deeply saddened by Larry’s passing, and our thoughts are with his family and dear friends during this difficult time.”
TNT said in a statement: “All of us at TNT are deeply saddened at the news of Larry Hagman’s passing He was a wonderful human being and an extremely gifted actor. We will be forever thankful that a whole new generation of people got to know and appreciate Larry through his performance as J.R. Ewing. Our thoughts and prayers are with his family at this very difficult time.”
Born in Texas, Hagman followed his mother onto the New York stage. After years of guest turns on TV, Hagman landed I Dream Of Jeannie which ran for 5 years. In 1964 he made his film debut in Ensign Pulver and appeared in Fail Safe which starred Henry Fonda. Additional feature film work included Harry And Tonto, Mother, Jugs & Speed, The Eagle Has Landed, Superman, Nixon, and Primary Colors. But his signature enduring role was as J.R. Ewing. Linda Gray last month recalled the series’ cast first encounter with Hagman: “From the moment we met him, he started the entire ball rolling. He came into a room in Burbank. He walked in with a saddlebag filled with ice and bottles of champagne. That is how we had our first read-through of the original script. That bonded us to this wonderful man.”
When Dallas debuted as a 5-part miniseries in April 1978, J.R. was merely a supporting character. But soon he eaned bigger pieces of the storyline until he was the star of the show. The 1980 episode in which J.R. was shot became the ultimate TV cliffhanger and the ensuing ‘Who Done It?’ episode earned record high ratings. In his memoir Hello Darlin’, Hagman recalled: “Ronald Reagan was campaigning against Jimmy Carter, American hostages were being held in Iran, Polish shipyard workers were on strike, and all anyone wanted to know was, who shot J.R.?” As the world waited, Hagman used the time to negotiate a larger share of the profits from the show by threatening to leave. “Everyone was making a windfall from J.R. except me,” he complained. He was finally given his $100,000 per episode asking price.
Hagman was nominated in 1980 and 1981 for Emmys as Lead Actor In A Drama but never won. After the original Dallas ended in 1981, Hagman starred in the TV reunion movies Dallas: J.R. Returns (1986) followed by Dallas: War of the Ewings (1998). Then TNT decided with much fanfare to continue Dallas and focus on a new Ewing generation. Despite obvious physical frailty, Hagman gamely returned to Southfork alongside Linda Gray and Patrick Duffy. The series became cable’s #1 new drama with adults 18-49 and adults 25-54 as well as one of cable’s top new series among total viewers. For its first season, Dallas averaged 4.5 million viewers in live plus same day delivery, with 1.4 million adults 18-49 and 1.8 million adults 25-54. In August, TNT scheduled Season 2.
An infamous drinker, the longtime Malibu resident spent several weeks in 1995 at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center where he underwent a liver transplant. As a high-profile advocate for organ donation, Hagman received an award for his efforts to increase public awareness.