Actor known for his striking portrayal of villainous JR Ewing

Sat, Dec 1, 2012, 00:00

LARRY HAGMAN:Larry Hagman’s portrayal of one of television’s most beloved villains, JR Ewing, led the CBS series Dallas to enormous world popularity.

Hagman had been in Dallas filming an episode of the reboot of that series, which had made him the man audiences loved to hate from 1978 to 1991, when he died on Friday of last week of complications from cancer, aged 81.

In October 2011, before filming began on the new Dallas, Hagman announced he had a “treatable” form of cancer. It was the latest of several health problems since learning that he had cirrhosis in 1992.

“As JR, I could get away with anything: bribery, blackmail and adultery,” said Hagman after his diagnosis last year. “But I got caught by cancer.”

Nonetheless, he said, he relished the opportunity to reprise his best-known role.

For a time in the late 1970s and early 1980s, Hagman could lay claim to the title of most famous actor in the world. Dallas, a soapy saga of a ranch-owning Texas oil family, was a hit in 57 countries. The rich villainy of JR revived Hagman’s career after his co-starring role in the hit 1960s sitcom I Dream of Jeannie had typecast him as a comic actor.

Hagman was born in Fort Worth, Texas, on September 21st, 1931. His mother was the actor Mary Martin, who would become famous for her performances in South Pacific, Peter Pan, The Sound of Music and other Broadway shows. His father, Benjamin Hagman, was a lawyer whose clients included a number of wealthy Texas oil men; Larry Hagman’s memory of those tycoons would later help shape his portrayal of JR Ewing.

“They had such a nice, sweet smile,” he recalled. “But when you finished the meeting, your socks were missing, and you hadn’t even noticed they’d taken your boots.”

His parents were divorced when he was five. He was brought up in Los Angeles by his maternal grandmother, and after she died in 1943, he spent time with his father in Fort Worth and with his mother and his stepfather, Richard Halliday, a producer, manager and agent.

In 1951, his mother arranged a small role for him in the London company of South Pacific, in which she was starring. He remained in Europe for five years.

When he returned to the United States, he became a busy New York stage actor in the late 1950s and early 1960s. He was also seen on television, which at the time was still largely based in New York.

Hagman came to Hollywood in 1964. Shortly after he found his breakthrough role I Dream of Jeannie, which ran from 1965 to 1970.

Hagman once said that his approach to life was the same as his approach to acting: “Be as outrageous as you possibly can.” In Malibu, where he lived for many years, he was known as an amiable eccentric and was known to ask autograph-seekers to sing him a song or tell him a joke in exchange for his autograph.

One of his strangest habits, which continued for some years, was not speaking on Sundays. His silence had no religious connotation, he said, adding, “You’ve got to try it to appreciate how nice it is.”

Hagman had the same wife for more than 50 years: He had been married to Maj Axelsson since 1954.

She survives him, as do his son Preston, daughter Kristina Hagman and five granddaughters.

Born September 21st, 1931 Died November 23rd, 2012