I guess the longer you live, the more your heroes start to die off. Not that Larry Hagman was a traditional “hero” to me, but I always liked Hagman’s work. It seems that far too often the famous faces who’ve influenced my life are fading away. As a youngster, hooked on Nick at Nite, I enjoyed reruns of “I Dream of Jeannie”, which is where Hagman came to early fame. Soon “Dallas” was the hottest thing on television and it was one of the first adult TV shows I recall really being interested in as a kid. At the time the whole nation was vested in the nighttime soap opera and gripped by every move J.R. Ewing made. It was rare I could watch and enjoy the same TV shows as my grandmother, but Dallas was an exception. Of course she despised the nefarious J.R., while I thought he was the coolest guy around.
Flash forward to this past year and I started watching the TNT “new” version of Dallas. I tuned in not just because I liked the old show, but because Hagman would be portraying J.R. again. Hagman had last been seen on Nip/Tuck, a show I also watched. Though Hagman had mostly been wasted on that program, I couldn’t help but smile to see him on the TV screen again. While I liked the new Dallas show overall and there was clearly much less focus on Hagman’s aging J.R., there was no doubt that the not so reformed oil baron was easily the stand-out character once again, even with his role less emphasized. I even managed to get my girlfriend to watch the new Dallas and I think she too could see that J.R. was the star of the show.
Sadly Larry Hagman passed away today. Hagman had come into the new show with throat cancer, but back in October I recall watching a piece on Entertainment Tonight talking about how he was now cancer-free. Apparently that clean bill of health was short. You could tell Hagman was not at 100% in the first season of the new show, but his character still added a lot. Perhaps it’s a bit selfish, but I can’t imagine how the show will work without him, even though they’ve poised J.R.’s son to take over the reigns. This revival of Dallas probably came ten years too late.
Supposedly Hagman already shot about half the new season, so I don’t know if they’re rewriting the show to write J.R. off or how they will address it. It makes me sad to see that the show’s momentum and Hagman’s resurgence will be cut short. It was clear he was having fun and injecting life into the program. Although he was 81, I had hoped he could at least do a few seasons before being written off to bow out gracefully. How TNT handles the death of J.R. will be perhaps more compelling than the simple reality that everyone passes eventually. Even larger than life characters and the provoking actors who portray them.
Here’s to you, Larry Hagman, for providing me decades of enjoyment and creating an iconic character that the world loved to hate… But mostly loved.