A part of Texas died on Friday. Larry Hagman was both a native (born in Weatherford) and, as Dallas anti-hero J.R. Ewing, an international symbol of the state. The actor lost his battle to cancer at the age of 81 at Medical City in his part-time home of Dallas, where he’d been filming the second season of TNT’s revival of the famous prime-time soap opera. As Lynn Elber of the Associated Press reported:
“Larry was back in his beloved hometown of Dallas, re-enacting the iconic role he loved the most. Larry’s family and closest friends had joined him in Dallas for the Thanksgiving holiday,” the family said in a statement that was provided to The Associated Press by Warner Bros., producer of the show.
The 81-year-old actor was surrounded by friends and family before he passed peacefully, “just as he’d wished for,” the statement said.
As Alan Peppard of the Dallas Morning News wrote, Hagman lived part of the year in a penthouse at the Mansion on Turtle Creek, and “became part of the fabric of the city.”
Then as now, his acting chops and semi-comic villainy (and, this time around, his unruly eyebrows) were the best thing about Dallas. J.R. Ewing basically laid the foundation for the evolution of the TV anti-hero evident in Mad Men, The Sopranos, Breaking Bad, and even, as Buzzfeed’s Richard Rushfield wrote, sitcoms like Roseanne, The Simpsons, and The Mindy Project.
Fans have even flocked to the real Southfork Ranch in Parker (which is now a museum) to mourn Hagman, as WFAA reported:
In the days ahead, there will be lots more memories, as well as speculation on how J.R. Ewing will inevitably meet his maker on the revived show.
But what stood out over the weekend is just what a unique talent and unconventional character Larry Hagman was–hilarious, creative and one heck of an interview. As Harry Hurt III wrote in his June 2012 Texas Monthly profile, Hagman was “a good friend, a spiritual mentor, and one hell of a partier.” Back in his I Dream of Jeannie days, he was known for taking LSD, leading impromptu parades on the beach in Malibu, and not speaking on Sundays, just because.
Hurt’s profile now stands as a comprehensive obit for the great actor and great Texan, from his beginnings as the child of musical superstar Mary Martin to his lifelong marriage to Maj Hagman and his TV marriage to (and close off-screen friendship with) Linda Gray.
Below, a few of the best quotes, anecdotes, reactions, and videos that have been published and republished in the wake of Hagman’s death:
• From a New York Times Q&A by Andrew Goldman:
You wrote in your memoir, “Hello Darlin’,” that when you die, you want to be ground up in a wood chipper like Steve Buscemi’s character in the movie “Fargo.” Is this actually set down in your will?
Well, it’s hard to set down chipping. I don’t think that’s allowed. But I did want to be spread over a field and have marijuana and wheat planted and harvest it in a couple of years and then have a big marijuana cake, enough for 200 to 300 people. People would eat a little of Larry.
• Hagman and Dallas will be featured on the upcoming PBS series Pioneers of Television; the network noted on its Facebook page that during his interview, the actor half-seriously credited the Ewings for the end of communism:
While Hagman wasn’t completely serious, Dallas (and its imitators) showcased American wealth to the world; and the rest of the world wanted the luxury cars, fancy clothes, and beautiful homes they saw on Dallas. According to Hagman, that desire for consumer goods was part of the reason for the fall of the Berlin wall in 1989 and crumbling of Soviet rule.
• A pair of don’t-miss YouTubes:
Three minutes of wall-to-wall, classic J.R. Ewing.
And a career-spanning clip reel, from I Dream of Jeannie to Primary Colors, that was assembled for Hagman’s 2009 induction into the Austin Film Society’s Texas Film Hall of Fame.
• On the occasion of that Hall of Fame event, Hagman told Chris Garcia of the Austin American-Statesman that taking LSD was “possibly the most important thing I’ve ever done in my life.”
Garcia: Oh, my God. You’ve also said that LSD took away your fear of death.
Hagman: Yeah, of course. Because you kind of die. Your ego dies. Whatever makes you you, you find out is just this little speck in the cosmos, but you’re a part of the cosmos at the same time.
• One of Hagman’s more unlikely friendships was with the late Keith Moon, wildman drummer for The Who. They met while making the 1973 movie Stardust, and were neighbors in freespirited Malibu.
This clip from a British TV show has Hagman profanely and hilariously recounting the story of how he ended up taking Moon to rehab (including his own imitation of Moon and his girlfriend, who always called him “Mr. Hagman”).
• Dallas lawyer Lisa Blue, who is coincidentally profiled in the new issue of Texas Monthly, was a close friend of Hagman’s. She offered her memories to Harold Cook of Letters From Texas. As Cook wrote:
He was probably the kindest person I ever met. He went out of his way to make sure people were included, and always asked them about their background, and was always very kind to his fans. He was the kind of guy who, if went to the doctor, he’d find out all about the nurse–her interests, her passions. He wasn’t at all like the character he portrayed.
Lisa, who was with him this week, told me that he went the way he wanted to go–quickly, and surrounded by people who loved him, and whom he loved. She said that in their last conversation, he told her that he’d had a wonderful life. That he was blessed. That he was so in love with his wife and his family.
• And finally, the ending to Hurt’s Texas Monthly story is quite bittersweet:
…Hagman hopes the new Dallas will earn enough viewers to be picked up for a full season, and preferably for ten full seasons. “I’d love to be acting when I’m ninety,” he says. “Why would I ever want to retire? I love what I do.” Failing that, Hagman plans to switch on a GPS and hit the open road in accordance with the motto inspired by his first LSD trip: “Don’t worry. Be happy. Feel good.”
As we leave the Airstream and head back to the loft, Preston raises the bottom-line existential question that’s been on my mind since our day began. After undergoing treatment and adhering to a vegan diet, Hagman’s throat cancer has apparently gone into remission. He does not want for food, shelter, disposable income, rewarding work, or the love of family and friends. At age eighty, he’s acknowledged as a showbiz icon, the distinction his late mother tried to reserve for herself alone. So only one question remains.
“Are you happy now, Dad?” Preston asks.
Hagman nods, grinning at us more like a little boy named Lukey who’s just found a toy he wanted under the Christmas tree than the fictional Texas oil baron who made it all possible.
“Yes,” he says, “I am.”