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Larry Hagman, the man behind iconic villain J.R. Ewing, dies

CNN
Saturday, November 24, 2012 - 8:02pm

Actor Larry Hagman, who created one of television's iconic villains with the treacherous J.R. Ewing of "Dallas," died Friday, according to a family statement. He was 81.

Hagman died at a Dallas hospital of complications from cancer, said the statement posted on Hagman's official web site early Saturday.

"Larry was back in his beloved Dallas, re-enacting the iconic role he loved most," it said.

"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. The family requests privacy at this time."

Hagman shot to television superstardom in 1978 with the role of J.R. Ewing, the scheming Texas oil tycoon, in the prime-time soap opera "Dallas." He was the villain viewers loved to hate.

In 1980, the show became a mega-hit with the "Who Shot J.R.?" plot line that left Americans guessing who pulled the trigger.

The answer came on November 21, 1980, in an episode dubbed "Who Done It?." More than 350 million viewers tuned in around the world to find out Kristen Shepherd, the sister of J.R.'s wife, shot him. It remains one of the most watched television episodes in history.

Ewing survived that shooting, and Hagman and the rest of the cast thrived for 14 seasons total before bowing out in 1991.

He reprised the role for TNT's reboot of the series "Dallas" in June 2012. Hagman filmed appearances for the show's second season, which is set to air in January. (Like CNN, TNT is a division of Time Warner and Turner Broadcasting.)

It was a role he clearly reveled, even developing a trademark laugh for the character. At one point, Hagman made up fake $100 bills emblazoned with his face and the words "In Hagman We Trust" to hand out to fans.

In one of his final interviews on CNN, Hagman appeared alongside original "Dallas" cast members Linda Gray (Sue Ellen) and Patrick Duffy (Bobby) on "Piers Morgan Tonight."

During the interview, Morgan described the character of J.R. Ewing as "the dark dealer of evil scheming."

"Moi?" Hagman said, breaking into a wide smile.

In a statement released Friday by Gray's publicist to KNBC-TV in Los Angeles, the actress described Hagman as "my best friend for more than 35 years."

"He was the pied piper of life and brought joy to everyone he knew. He was creative, generous, funny, loving and talented and I will miss him enormously. He was an original and lived life to the full and the world was a brighter place because of him," the statement said.

Hagman told Morgan when he was first approached about doing the "Dallas" remake, the first question he asked: "Are my friends going to be on the show?"

"I wouldn't be doing it without them," he said.

Word of Hagman's passing spread quickly late Friday and early Saturday, with everybody from celebrities to fans mourning his death.

Actor William Shatner took to Twitter: "My thoughts and prayers go out to the family of Larry Hagman. My best, Bill."

"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," TNT said in a statement. "Our thoughts and prayers are with his family at this very difficult time."

Hagman was born in Fort Worth, Texas, on the cusp of the Great Depression to actress Mary Martin and Ben Hagman, a lawyer.

He spent a year at Bard College in New York and then embarked on a life in theater in Dallas and New York, according to his official website.

He appeared onstage with his mother in "South Pacific" in England and even produced and directed several shows while in the U.S. Air Force. After getting married and leaving the service, Hagman returned to the United States and starred in a number of Broadway plays.

His family then headed to Hollywood, where Hagman earned roles in such television shows as "The Edge of Night" and "The Defenders."

Hagman's breakthrough role came in 1965, when he played astronaut Maj. Tony Nelson, or "Master," as he was known to the scantily clad, 2,000-year-old genie played by Barbara Eden in the hit comedy, "I Dream of Jeannie."

"I can still remember, that first day on Zuma Beach with him, in the frigid cold. From that day for five more years, Larry was the center of so many fun, wild, shocking and, in retrospect, memorable moments that will remain in my heart forever," Eden said in a Facebook post on Friday, shortly after hearing of Hagman's death.

"...I, like many others, believed he had beat cancer and yet we are reminded that life is never guaranteed."

Eden signed off, simply: "Goodbye Larry. There was no one like you before and there will never be anyone like you again."

Hagman kept busy after the show went off the air in 1970, appearing in guest roles in "The Streets of San Francisco," "The Rockford Files" and "Barnaby Jones." In the 1990s, he starred in the television show "Orleans."

Off screen, his drinking earned him unwanted attention from the tabloids, which chronicled his battle with alcoholism.

In recent years, he went public with his wife's battle with Alzheimer's.

He also suffered several health scares, including a bout with cirrhosis and a 16-hour liver transplant in 1995 that helped save his life.

Last year, he revealed that he had been diagnosed with cancer, but at the time, Hagman called it "a very common and treatable form."

He is survived by his wife, a son, a daughter and five grandchildren.
 

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