Larry Hagman, whose portrayal of JR Ewing, the alpha male raised to the highest art, the slick, cunning, evil, and ominously intimidating oil tycoon on the TV series Dallas who enthralled millions upon millions of viewers around the world, died on Friday from complications from throat cancer, according to The Chicago Tribune. He was 81.
Hagman certainly made his mark on American television, with two successful shows which were decidedly different genres. His portrayal of Major Anthony Nelson on the long-running sitcom I Dream of Jeannie was a success and the ridiculous premise of a bachelor who discovers a genie in a bottle (played by Barbara Eden) hit paydirt during a Vietnam War-weary nation looking for escapism in the 1960s.
But it was his role starting in the late 1970s as JR Ewing on CBS-TV’s Dallas that he made his mark. The character helped propel the show to the top of the ratings; every Friday night for years millions of people tuned in to see the exploits of the Ewing family, engaging in various forms of pulp fiction: backstabbing, adultery, alcoholism, business ruthlessness, all spearheaded by the deliciously relishing acting portrayal of JR by Hagman. He made the character a take no prisoners kind of person, a major force to be reckoned with; crossing him meant one would be in the biggest danger zone known to man, the weak were reduced to rubble in his wake, the strong given the challenge of a lifetime. JR never yielded in his self-serving pursuits and would stop at nothing to manifest each and every one.
JR got himself into some major hot water during the 1980 season, and found himself on the wrong end of a pistol. The ensuing episode in which the shooter was revealed (Kristin, portrayed by Mary Crosby) and entitled “Who Done It?” became one of the most watched television programs of all time, watched by the kind of immense audience numbers usually reserved for Super Bowl telecasts, a record which still stands to this day. In the summer leading up to that episode, originally shown in the fall, America became lit up with wondering who indeed had shot JR Ewing. News programs, magazines, and water cooler talk became the order of the day, as everyone wondered “Who Shot JR?,” finally culminating with the airing of the episode and the answer. By that point, the character of JR Ewing, and Larry Hagman’s portrayal of him, became as an iconic image of television, as big as Mickey Mouse, Lucille Ball, the Moon Landing, and the JFK Assassination. In essence, the character of JR Ewing became another landmark TV folk hero like an Archie Bunker, Tony Soprano, Marshall Matt Dillon from the old TV show Gunsmoke, and Arthur Fonzarelli (“The Fonz” from Happy Days). Hagman also appeared in other productions like Harry and Tonto in which he played Art Carney’s screw-up of a son, he also directed and appeared in a campy sort of loose sequel to The Blob, entitled Beware! The Blob. He also made a brief appearance in the first Superman film in 1978.
Hagman reprised the role of JR Ewing for a reboot of Dallas which premiered just this past summer. The show was a success and was renewed for a second season, which of course now gives the producers a major enigma trench in which to delve into and decide how to carry on the show when one of its biggest forces of nature, (if not its biggest) has now been silenced in the wake of Hagman’s death.
Hagman will be missed; he raised the bar on the portrayal of the television villain, of the villain in filmed literature, he showed that nice guys DO finish last indeed and not sometimes as the song by the garage band The Standells goes, but ALWAYS, good guys don’t wear white.
RIP Larry Hagman
September 21, 1931 – November 23, 2012
[Source: Chicago Tribune]