Larry Hagman, star of Dallas and I Dream of Jeannie, dies at 81 as king of the character actors
It's a tribute to Larry Hagman's star power that he was not only able to create two legendary TV characters, but that both of them were so different from each other.
As I Dream of Jeannie's Major Tony Nelson, Hagman played opposite blonde beauty Barbara Eden as a straitlaced astronaut who discovered a beautiful genie in a bottle upon splashing down after a rocket mission. This guy was a comedic version of the men actually launching themselves into space to reach the moon; a buttoned-down straight man who could only be loosened up by Eden's adventurous woman-child with a genie's powers (hey, it was 1965).
But as Dallas villain J.R. Ewing, the famously gregarious and eccentric Hagman seemed to be playing a character closer to his own personality -- a wily, compelling guy who knew just how charismatic he was and had no compunction about using it in any situation.
Playing a guy who could have been a moustache-twirling cardboard cut-out in lesser hands, Hagman turned J.R. into a national institution -- the bad guy who couldn't be kept down, not even by an assassin's bullet in the famous "Who Shot J.R." storyline in 1980.
More than a few actors have created beloved TV characters. But they usually become a straitjacket, forcing the actor to play variations of that character until they stop working. Hagman neatly sidestepped that problem, even lending his famously overgrown eyebrows to play an upright politician with a secret in the film Primary Colors and billionaire businessman Jack Jones in Oliver Stone's Nixon.
He was a character actor with leading man looks who turned a bad guy into the star of the show; a crowning achievement for one of showbiz's coolest character actors.
Hagman was always the most compelling element of Dallas' nighttime soap; a fact confirmed by the success of this year's Dallas revival on the TNT cable channel, which featured his conniving J.R. Ewing as the most vital and compelling of the series' original characters. In 2011, Hagman revealed he had throat cancer, taking some time from the production for treatment.
During publicity for the TNT revival of Dallas, Hagman insisted he was doing fine. But complications from throat cancer eventually claimed his life Friday at age 81, his family told the Associated Press.
Hagman was a famously hard-partying figure who underwent a liver transplant in 1995 after drinking damaged his body. Reportedly introduced to LSD by David Crosby and marijuana by Jack Nicholson, Hagman didn't kick drinking until the liver cancer, maintaining his reputation as a fun-loving figure in Hollywood for many who worked with him.
Observe his magic below in clips from his two best roles. And provide a final burst of appreciation for a great actor who made lightning strike twice for two generations of fans.