It’s taken me awhile to get around to writing this, because the man had such a profound impact on my life. Seriously. For those who don’t know, my full name is John Richard LeMar. But the reason why everyone knows me as J.R., and why that’s the name I put on my byline here, and my various social network profiles, instead of John, or John Richard, is because of Larry Hagman’s portrayal of J.R. Ewing on the TV series Dallas.
I began watching that show when I was still a wee lad. My older brother James had already been a fan of the series, and he watched it every week. So, over the years, I had seen parts of various episodes, y’know, just from being in the same room when he’d have the TV on, and had a vague familiarity with the concept, but it wasn’t until the season finale of Season 9, in May 1986, that I sat down to watch an entire episode. This was the last of what later became known as the “dream season,” after Patrick Duffy’s character, Bobby Ewing, had been killed off the year before. It had been announced in the press that Duffy had re-signed with the show, and would be appearing during this episode, but nobody knew how, because his character was dead. For whatever reason, the news of this intrigued me, and so I watched it with my brother. The cliffhanger they left it on was enough to encourage me to want to tune in to the following season, to see how it was explained, and during that summer the network reran the season and I watched them all, and instantly became hooked. I continued to watch the series all the way until it ended 5 years later. Eventually, a cable network started re-running Dallas Mon-Friday, and so I was able to see the entire series from the very first episode.
Dallas, while uneven @ times, was very good show. I’ve created a new category for this post, so I can come back and post some reviews of the series, both the original and the new one, as well as the various TV movies, later when I have time. So I won’t get into that too much now. But I will say that the stand-out character, the one who made me, and millions of others around the globe, keep tuning in, was J.R. Ewing. I was soon transfixed by that character (hence, why I started calling myself J.R., like him), who could have easily been just another dastardly evil bastard, a typical “soap opera villain”, but Larry Hagman always managed to put a little twinkle in his eye. Even when J.R. was putting a plan together to screw over somebody, Hagman still made it look as if he was just having fun, that for J.R. Ewing it was the implementation of putting the devious plan together, and watching everything fall into place, that he enjoyed, more so than the actual act of screwing over someone. In many forms of fiction today, from dramas to comedies to “reality” TV shows, you’ll often hear of a particular character being one that the audience “loves to hate.” Well, J.R. Ewing was the original villain that you loved to hate. Because he was just so darn good @ being so darn bad. There were other good characters and storylines on Dallas, but the main reason I was watching was to see what J.R. Ewing would get up to next.
I supposed I would remiss if I didn’t mention his Larry Hagman’s other iconic acting role, that of Major Anthony Nelson on I Dream of Jeannie. Of course I also watched that show, long before I’d started watching Dallas. That used to play in reruns on a daily basis, when I was a kid, and I loved it. Hagman’s comedic timing was evident, which makes it all the more remarkable that he was able to segue into dramatic acting so well, after that. And now he’s remembered for two TV characters, which is a rarity in Hollywood.
The thing I also love about Hagman is that he also seemed to be a genuinely nice and funny guy in his personal life. Even @ the height of his popularity in the 80’s you didn’t see his name plastered all over the tabloids, no fights with paparazzi. And everyone who knew liked him. When they interview anyone who knew him and/or worked with him, no one has a bad thing to say about him. Talk about another rarity in Hollywood! I got his autobiography, Hello Darlin’: Tall (and Absolutely True) Tales About My Life, several years ago, and he attributes his attitude to his age. He achieved his superstardom later in life than many, he was 49 when Dallas premiered. So he’d already seen the ups and downs of the Hollywood lifestyle, and therefor knew how to stay out of trouble. He had his real friends to hang out with, and was with his beloved wife, Maj, for almost 50 years, and he was happy.
I’m also happy that he lived to see the revival of Dallas. The series came back last year, on TNT, and was very popular. For the record, I was entirely happy with some of the storylines, particularly the way J.R. Ewing was written, but I still had high hopes for the show, coming into it’s second season next January. So, as a fan, I admit that part of my initial reaction when I first heard about Hagman’s death was to be upset about what this meant for the show. After 15 years, they brought the show back, something I never really thought would happen, and just like that we lose Larry Hagman. It sucks. But putting aside my selfish fanboy side, and ignoring what it means for the show going forward, I am comforted by the knowledge that Larry Hagman died as a working actor, playing J.R. Ewing, the role which made him a worldwide icon, and got to see that it was still a success. That, and that fact that his family and friends like Linda Gray were by his side on his death, make me smile.
Rest In Peace, Larry Hagman. You will be missed.