Larry Hagman, TV's iconic J.R. Ewing, has passed away in Dallas at the age of 81.
Hagman, the son of Broadway star Mary Martin, was the star of two popular TV series. He played Major Tony Nelson on I DREAM OF JEANNIE from 1965 to 1970. That show is one of my earliest TV memories.
Hagman's JEANNIE costar, actress Barbara Eden, said "I can honestly say that we’ve lost not just a great actor, not just a television icon, but an element of pure Americana."
JEANNIE was popular, but DALLAS, which began in 1978, was something else altogether. When his gleefully villainous J.R. was shot in "A House Divided" at the end of Season 3, it caused worldwide excitement of a kind not seen before or since.
I happened to see J.R. shot by chance; I'd never watched DALLAS before, but I was babysitting that night and -- this being the era before cable TV -- there was literally nothing else on that night worth watching! Needless to say, I was immediately hooked, and rather amazed to learn that episode was the end of the season. Season-ending TV cliffhangers weren't the norm back in 1980.
I was in college during the height of the long-running show's popularity, and as a matter of fact I even had a poster of the DALLAS cast photo seen here hanging in my dorm room.
Hagman, back in Dallas for the sequel TV series which began airing this year, had been joined by his family for the Thanksgiving holiday, and they were with him when he passed on from cancer Friday afternoon.
I found it quite touching that his longtime DALLAS costars, Linda Gray (Sue Ellen) and Patrick Duffy (Bobby), were also said to be at his bedside when he passed on; on screen ol' J.R. may have had plenty of battles with Sue Ellen and Bobby over the years, but behind the scenes the trio were close decades-long friends.
Hagman's other credits include one of my favorite TV episodes of all time, "The Adventures of the Mad Tea Party" on ELLERY QUEEN in 1975.
It's rather hard not to feel today that, with Hagman's death, it's the closing of an entire era of TV, but there are lots of good memories left behind for those of us who were there to enjoy it.