Larry Hagman was an actor best known for playing two vastly different roles: Capt. Tony Nelson, the good-hearted astronaut master on “I Dream of Jeannie,” and J. R. Ewing, the Texan millionaire audiences loved to hate on “Dallas.”
Hagman was born in Fort Worth, Texas, the son of legendary actress Mary Martin and district attorney Benjamin Jack Hagman. At age 5, his parents divorced, and he and his mother moved to Los Angeles, where she became a contract player for Paramount. When Martin returned to New York to continue her Broadway career, Hagman stayed in California with his grandmother until her death, then eventually made his way back to Texas where he developed a reputation as a talented performer.
Hagman moved to London as a cast member of his mother’s stage show “South Pacific.” There he dated British actress Joan Collins, then met and married Swedish-born Maj Axelsson. After being drafted into the U.S. Air Force in 1952, Hagman completed his military service and returned to New York, where he performed in a series of Broadway/off-Broadway plays before moving his family to Hollywood.
In 1965, Hagman was cast in “I Dream of Jeannie,” NBC’s answer to magical comedies “Bewitched” and “My Favorite Martian.” Hagman played Capt. (later Major) Tony Nelson, love interest to Barbara Eden’s Jeannie. The show rose to the Top 10 its first year. The show’s five-season run was a moderate success, but when episodes ran in syndication, it became one of the highest-rated series of the 1970s. After “Jeannie,” Hagman starred in two short-lived series, “Here We Go Again” and “The Good Life,” and also appeared in such films as “The Group,” “Mother, Jugs & Speed” and “Superman.”
Hagman accepted the role as J.R. Ewing on the prime-time soap opera “Dallas” in 1978, further making his mark on television history. Originally intended to be a supporting role, J.R. quickly became the focus of the series when his nefarious dealings proved a hit with audiences. The show’s popularity grew, and the second season ended with the question “Who shot J.R.?” widely considered one of the greatest cliffhangers in television history. “Dallas” ran for 13 seasons. Hagman was nominated for two Emmys and four Golden Globes and holds the record for consecutive appearances by a leading actor in a dramatic series, starring in all 357 episodes. He also appeared as J.R. Ewing in five episodes of the “Dallas” spinoff “Knots Landing.”
In the late ’90s, Hagman made a television comeback in the movie “Dallas: J.R. Returns” and as the Honorable Judge Luther Charbonnet in the CBS series “Orleans.” In 1995, he received a lifesaving liver transplant after doctors discovered he was suffering from cirrhosis of the liver, caused by prolonged alcohol consumption. He has acted as chairman of the American Cancer Society’s annual Great American Smokeout and also worked on behalf of the National Kidney Foundation.
Hagman died Nov. 23, 2012 at a Dallas hospital, a year after he announced his second bout with cancer. He had spoken candidly about decades of drinking that led to cirrhosis of the liver and, in 1995, a life-saving liver transplant.
“He was the pied piper of life and brought joy to everyone he knew,” Linda Gray said in a statement confirming the passing of her costar and friend. “He was creative, generous, funny, loving and talented.... an original and lived life to the full.”
Points of interest