Actor Larry Hagman Dies At 81

Sad news from the world of acting:

Larry Hagman, whose portrayal of one of television’s most beloved villains, J.R. Ewing, led the CBS series “Dallas” to enormous world popularity, died Friday in Dallas, where Mr. Hagman had been filming the sequel to his famous show. He was 81.

The death occurred at a hospital at 4:20 p.m., and was caused by complications arising from cancer, his family said in a statement.

“Larry was back in his beloved hometown of Dallas, re-enacting the iconic role he loved most,” the family said.

For a time in the late 1970s and early 1980s, Mr. Hagman could lay claim to the title of most famous actor in the world. “Dallas,” a soapy saga of a ranch-owning Texas oil family, the Ewings, was a hit in 57 countries.

Its celebrated signature episode, which resolved the question of “Who Shot J.R.?,” a mystery masterfully marketed by the series and CBS, set worldwide viewing records with an estimated 350 million people tuning in for the answer. (Kristen Shepard, the scheming adulterous sister of J.R.’s wife, Sue Ellen, pulled the trigger.) In the United States, the episode reached an estimated 83 million people.

Few actors enjoyed their fame as much as Mr. Hagman, who traveled the world handing out fake $100 bills with his face on them.

The rich villainy of J.R. revived Mr. Hagman’s career after he had become typecast as a lightweight comic actor for his co-starring role in the successful 1960s sitcom “I Dream of Jeannie.”

The son of the famed Broadway actress Mary Martin, Mr. Hagman was born in Fort Worth in 1931. He was married to the former Maj Axelsson for 59 years.

When TNT decided to try to remount “Dallas” with a new generation of Ewings, it invited Mr. Hagman to return in his J.R. role. He won numerous critical plaudits for that reprise, with some critics saying that he remained the best thing about “Dallas.” The new version was a success for TNT, which ordered a second season of the series.

It was hard not to be aware of Hagman is you were around in the 80s. Dallas had quickly become the star vehicle for a new brand of nighttime drama, and the “Who Shot J.R.?” mystery became something that the entire country became obsessed with. It was, quite admittedly, a masterful piece of marketing by the producers of the show and by CBS. I wasn’t around during the I Dream Of Jeannie days, but I’ve caught those shows on TV Land and other such places over the years and it’s interesting to contrast the characters Hagman used to play with the “evil genius” of J.R. Ewing.

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Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug Mataconis held a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010 and contributed a staggering 16,483 posts before his retirement in January 2020. He passed far too young in July 2021.


  1. Nikki says:

    I was seven when “I Dream of Jeannie” went off the air, so it was easy to have a crush on the gorgeous Major Anthony Nelson. Fun times.

  2. Idiot says:

    Here is a youtube with some great scenes of Hagman as J.R. Ewing: