LOS ANGELES, November 24, 2012 — It was the pitch blackest of Black Fridays, as legendary super-villain J.R. Ewing left us all for the great oil rig in the sky.
Iconic actor Larry Hagman died on Friday at the age of 81 due to complications from cancer. At his bedside were his wife of 60 years, Maj, other family members, and long-time Dallas co-stars Patrick (Bobby Ewing) Duffy and Linda (Sue Ellen Ewing) Gray.
As the son of Mary Martin, Hagman became that rare breed of offspring of a world famous performer who achieved equal if not greater success in his own right on the small and big screens.
While Hagman first achieved success as Major Tony Nelson on “I Dream of Jeannie,” with Barbara Eden, the entire world knew him as dastardly J.R. Ewing. In addition to starring in “Dallas,” Hagman also directed many episodes of the show and was one of the executive producers in the later seasons of the original series.
The original “Dallas” ran from 1977 through 1991, was a huge international success (the “Who shot J.R.” episode was the second highest rated television show in history), and spawned a pair of movies in 1996 and 1998, but it was a big gamble to try to bring the show back in 2012. Mr. Hagman and his co-stars rejected scripts throughout the years, but fell in love with this new incarnation of the show. Bad brother J.R. and good brother Bobby saw the feud carried on in the new century through their sons, John Ross III (Josh Henderson) and Christopher (Jesse Metcalfe), and the younger Ewings’ love interests played by Jordana Brewster (Elena Ramos) and Julie Gonzalo (Rebecca Barnes).
The original “Dallas” led to a spinoff in “Knots Landing” and a pair of copycats in “Dynasty” and “Falcon Crest.” They all had super-villains (played by William Devane, Joan Collins, Donna Mills, Jane Wyman, and David Selby), but Larry Hagman’s J.R was the best of the bunch. He was just as deliciously evil the second time around.
The new version of Dallas did not succeed based on nostalgia. It worked because it was outstanding television, with Larry Hagman leading the way. With his trademark ten gallon hat and grit-eating grin, J.R. Ewing was less of a villain and more of an anti-hero. Americans loved to hate him and hated to love him. The return of Ken Kercheval as family villain Cliff Barnes brought out the worst in J.R. and the best in Hagman.
After betraying a family member (again), a smiling J.R. holds up a glass of champagne and intones, “Blood is thicker than water, but oil is a whole heck of a lot thicker than both of them.”
The show was scheduled to return in January of 2013, and Hagman did appear in several of the episodes before his passing. The original Dallas survived the death of patriarch Jim Davis (Jock Ewing) and the new series came after the death of matriarch Barbara Belle Geddies (Miss Ellie Ewing). Yet this is different. There will never be another show like “Dallas,” another character like J.R., or another actor like Hagman.
In one episode of the new season, an enemy of J.R. shakes his hand at a banquet and says “some people are just too mean to die.” Sadly, J.R. could cheat every member of his own family, but not Father Time.
Another recent episode has Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones appear to express how great it is to see J.R. Ewing back on top. For a new generation of television fans, the same thankfully can be said about Larry Hagman.
Several years ago in the city of Dallas, my own journeys took me to the replica of Southfork Ranch. The show may have been filmed in Los Angeles at the time, but traffic at this tourist attraction was heavy from global visitors.
The 2012 version of the show was filmed in North Texas. After initial grumblings in the 1970s, Texans soon embraced Larry Hagman and the show as one of their own.
In 1991, J.R. promised John Ross that the youngster would learn the oil business from the greatest oil man in Texas. His reneging on that promise fueled John Ross’s anger and became the launching point for the 2012 series. In the season finale, John Ross wants a new promise. He wants his daddy to teach him every dirty trick in the book. He wants to know how to steal the new family company from the rest of the family. A smiling J.R. says “You’re my son, from tip to tail.” The scene ends with that Larry Hagman grin.
As bad as he was, Larry Hagman made us all grin. He was a great of the small screen, and television has lost the gold standard of actors.
Then again, J.R. would disagree. It would be the “awl” standard, not the gold standard. Gold is just stuff. Oil is what runs this world, from tip to tail.
Farewell, J.R. Ewing, and farewell, Larry Hagman. From Hollywood, California, to Dallas, Texas, to anywhere in the world where people are wheeling, dealing, and stealing over oil, you will be missed.
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