Larry Hagman, Whose Stage Pedigree Led Him to Fame on TV's "Dallas," Is Dead at 81

By Kenneth Jones
24 Nov 2012

Larry Hagman
Larry Hagman

Larry Hagman, the actor who shot to international fame by playing villainous oil baron J.R. Ewing on the 1980s TV soap opera "Dallas," died Nov. 23 at Medical City in Dallas after a battle with throat cancer, his family told the Dallas Morning News. He was 81.

Mr. Hagman, who recreated his scheming capitalist character in a recent and popular reboot of the series (appearing in season one and part of season two), performed on Broadway and London stages early in his career. He was the son of Broadway star Mary Martin, who was 17 when she gave birth to him.

From 1965 to 1970, Mr. Hagman was the straight-arrow Air Force officer Tony Nelson in the TV sitcom "I Dream of Jeannie," in which his character uncorked a comely genie in a bottle (played by Barbara Eden). But he was white-hot in his middle-age years in the 1980s as the philandering J.R. Ewing, who was famously shot in the 1979-80 season finale of the series.

In the summer of 1980, the whole world seemed to be asking, "Who shot J.R.?"



The series was akin to the film version of Edna Ferber's "Giant," but with more sex, alcoholism and sibling rivalry. A few seasons after J.R. was shot (his crazy sister-in-law did it), his brother Bobby (played by Patrick Duffy) took a couple of bullets. The "Who shot Bobby?" question aroused less interest in the world, and by that time the soaps "Falcon Crest," "Dynasty" and "Knots Landing" (itself a "Dallas" spinoff) were pulling focus away from "Dallas." (In the reboot of the series, on TNT, the family tension has trickled down to the sons of Bobby and J.R.)

In its heyday, according to reports, "Dallas" was seen by an estimated 300 million people in 57 countries.

Mr. Hagman penned a memoir called "Hello Darlin'." He was born in Weatherford, TX. His father was a 21-year-old attorney, Benjamin Hagman. Mother Mary Martin was the beloved Broadway and TV star known for her work in the musicals Peter Pan (on Broadway and television), Leave It to Me, One Touch of Venus, South Pacific, The Sound of Music, I Do! I Do! and more. Benjamin Hagman and Martin were married for five years; Larry Hagman was raised by his maternal grandmother during Martin's ascent to stardom and later lived with his mother. He appeared in the London run of South Pacific, in which she starred.

Mr. Hagman's Broadway credits included The Beauty Part (1962), The Warm Peninsula (1959), The Nervous Set (1959), God and Kate Murphy (1959), Comes a Day (1958) and a New York City Center production of The Taming of the Shrew (1951).

His film credits include "Nixon," "Primary Colors," "Ensign Pulver," "S.O.B." and "Fail-Safe." He also starred as Bill Sampson opposite Lauren Bacall in a 1973 TV version of her Broadway musical hit Applause.

Mr. Hagman, who split his time between California and Dallas, is survived by his wife of 59 years, the former Maj Axelsson, daughter Kristina Hagman and son Preston Hagman, as well as granddaughters.