(Reuters) – Larry Hagman, who created one of American television’s most supreme villains in the conniving, amoral oilman J.R. Ewing of “Dallas,” died on Friday, the Dallas Morning News reported. He was 81.
Hagman died at a Dallas hospital of complications from his battle with throat cancer, the newspaper said, quoting a statement from his family. He had suffered from liver cancer and cirrhosis of the liver in the 1990s after decades of drinking.
Hagman’s mother was stage and movie star Mary Martin and he became a star himself in 1965 on “I Dream of Jeannie,” a popular television sitcom in which he played Major Anthony Nelson, an astronaut who discovers a beautiful genie in a bottle.
“Dallas,” which made its premiere on the CBS network in 1978, made Hagman a superstar. The show quickly became one of the network’s top-rated programs, built an international following and inspired a spin-off, imitators and a revival in 2012.
“Dallas” was the night-time soap-opera story of a Texas family, fabulously wealthy from oil and cattle, and its plot brimmed with back-stabbing, double-dealing, family feuds, violence, adultery and other bad behavior.
In the middle of it all stood Hagman’s black-hearted J.R. Ewing – grinning wickedly in a broad cowboy hat and boots, plotting how to cheat his business competitors and cheat on his wife. He was the villain TV viewers loved to despise during the show’s 356-episode run from 1978 to 1991.
“I really can’t remember half of the people I’ve slept with, stabbed in the back or driven to suicide,” Hagman said of his character in Time magazine.
In his autobiography, “Hello Darlin’: Tall (and Absolutely True) Tales About My Life,” Hagman wrote that J.R. originally was not to be the focus of “Dallas” but that changed when he began ad-libbing on the set to make his character more outrageous and compelling.
‘WHO SHOT J.R.?’
To conclude its second season, the “Dallas” producers put together one of U.S. television’s most memorable episodes in which Ewing was shot by an unseen assailant. That gave fans months to fret over whether J.R. would survive and who had pulled the trigger. In the show’s opening the following season, it was revealed that J.R.’s sister-in-law, Kristin, with whom he had been having an affair, was behind the gun.
Hagman said an international publisher offered him $250,000 to reveal who had shot J.R. and he considered giving the wrong information and taking the money, but in the end, “I decided not to be so like J.R. in real life.”
The popularity of “Dallas” made Hagman one of the best-paid actors in television and earned him a fortune that even a Ewing would have coveted. He lost some of it, however, in bad oil investments before turning to real estate.
“I have an apartment in New York, a ranch in Santa Fe, a castle in Ojai outside of L.A., a beach house in Malibu and thinking of buying a place in Santa Monica,” Hagman said in a Chicago Tribune interview.