Larry Hagman dies at 81 - but Dallas lives on

Nov 25, 2012

Show will continue after demise of actor who played JR Ewing in 357 episodes

AFTER SURVIVING an on-screen shooting which echoed around the world, 357 episodes of the original Dallas, a real-life liver transplant and LSD trips that left him convinced of the "oneness of the universe", actor Larry Hagman has died at the age of 81.

The Los Angeles Times records that it was throat cancer which caused the much-loved star's demise. He passed away in Dallas - his spiritual home, and not far from Fort Worth where he was born - surrounded by his family and with actress Linda Gray at his side.

Gray and Hagman were co-stars in 1980s soap, a torrid dynastic saga of back-stabbing Texan oil barons which delighted audiences all over the world, sometimes against their better judgement, and in its most memorable cliffhanger asked: "Who shot JR?"

Hagman embraced the part of JR Ewing off-screen as much as on, making the character's 10-gallon hat his own trademark and revelling in his global fame (the original hat is now in the Smithsonian).

A bizarre story in The Sunday Times recalls just how big Hagman's fame was at the height of Dallas's success. Hagman and his wife, Maj Axelsson, apparently visited Romanian dictator Nicolae Ceausescu, a big fan of the show, in the 1980s.

Ceausescu told Hagman he wanted to erect a gigantic portrait of JR Ewing on the side of a building to bolster his regime. Hagman said he had no objection, provided a bag filled with hard cash was left in the ladies' lavatory of a government office for his wife to collect the next day.

Sure enough, the cash arrived and "we spent it quickly like we did all the money in those days", Hagman revealed. The actor was so ashamed of the story he asked the journalist who confirmed it with him to keep it quiet until after his death - and it has only emerged now.

Ceausescu's bag of money may have been blown on champagne: according to Carole Cadwalladr writing in The Observer, the star drank four bottles a day for years. Tellingly, director Michael Preece, who made more than 60 episodes of Dallas, recalled trying to get Hagman's scenes covered before lunch because "he was better in the morning", says the BBC.

Sustained alcohol abuse led to a 1995 liver transplant - Hagman kept a photo of his organ donor above his mirror, but carried on drinking in secret until another operation in 2003 caused him to stop for good.

It was Jack Nicholson, says the LA Times, who introduced the Dallas star to marijuana, hoping it might help him cut down his drinking. Hagman became a convinced advocate of legalising cannabis consumption. He also campaigned for green energy policies.

Who it was who introduced Hagman to LSD - or to the habit of popping down to his local shop wearing a gorilla costume, a practice ascribed to him by Cadwalladr - is not recorded.

The Washington Post says Hagman will have a benevolent legacy - just last month a charitable foundation bearing his name was launched with a photo of him as the wicked JR and the slogan 'Evil Does Good'. It will encourage disadvantaged children in North Texas to explore creative arts.

JR Ewing will also get his memorial: the BBC reports the filming of the second series of the new Dallas reboot was half-completed when the star died (that's why he was in the city of Dallas for thanksgiving) and will now be re-written to take account of his demise.

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