In reading the tributes to the late Larry Hagman, I am convinced there is no other TV star who is as iconic. Hagman, 81, who had played the villainous J.R. Ewing on “Dallas,” the old and new TV series as well as a few movies in between, died Friday after a battle with cancer.
Of course, acting was in his blood. His mother, Mary Martin, was a famous actor in her own right and awarded two stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. She tackled any role (remember “Peter Pan”?), and her son proved just as diverse in his roles.
I fondly remember Hagman as Anthony Nelson on “I Dream of Jeannie” (1965-70). He was the perfect foil for Jeannie’s shenanigans. I can still hear him yelling, “Je-a-n-nie.”
He starred as Albert Miller on “The Good Life,” which ran 1971-72, as well as Richard Evans in “Here We Go Again,” a 1973 short-lived TV series. He made guest appearances on various TV series: “Dan August,” “Medical Center,” “Police Story, “ “Barnaby Jones” and “The Rockford Files.”
In 1978, his life, and ours, changed forever. From the moment Hagman appeared as J.R., we all knew there could – or rather – would be no other to do so. That’s why Hagman repeated the role in a number of “Knot’s Landing” episodes, TV movies and the recent TNT revival of “Dallas.”
When J.R. was shot at the end of the 1979/80 season, everyone spent the summer wondering
“Who Shot J.R.”? The “Who Done It?” episode, which revealed Mary Crosby’s character guilty-as-charged, was the highest-rated TV episode in U.S. history at that time, drawing a 76 percent share in the Nielsen ratings, translating to about 83 million viewers.
Hagman created a TV legend, however dastardly and conniving. We should thank Linda Gray for talking him into reviving his J.R. role on the latest “Dallas” series. Hagman was battling throat cancer, but he came back with gusto and showed he still had a scheme or two under his cowboy hat.
It is reported Hagman completed six of the scheduled 15 episodes of next season’s “Dallas,” and producers have vowed to give J.R. the proper sendoff mainly because they know – as well as we do – there will never be a replacement. There was only one J.R., and Hagman owned him lock, stock and barrel.