JR R.I.P: Larry Hagman, a true one-off, dies at 81

The heavy-drinking, larger-than-life star of 'Dallas' succumbs to cancer after reprising the role that made him famous around the world. Susie Mesure pays tribute to a legend

The actor Larry Hagman, known worldwide for playing the hard-drinking, Stetson-wearing oil tycoon J R Ewing, has died aged 81.

He passed away in hospital in his home town of Dallas, where he had reprised his famous role in a new series of the US television series that defined 1980s excesses and was the first show to become a global phenomenon.

His family said Hagman died from complications arising from cancer, adding: "Larry was back in his beloved home town of Dallas, re-enacting the iconic role he loved most".

Hagman appeared in a new 10-episode series of Dallas earlier this year, and writers will have to deal with his death during the second series, already in production, which is due to run next year.

Friends and fans rushed to pay tribute to the actor's colourful life, which he shared with his wife of almost 60 years, Maj Axelsson, a Swedish designer he met while in Britain with the US Air Force.

Linda Gray, who plays J R's ex-wife Sue Ellen in Dallas, said Hagman was the "Pied Piper of life and brought joy to everyone he knew". She added: "He was creative, generous, funny, loving and talented and I will miss him enormously. He was an original and lived life to the full."

The actor certainly milked his fame. At the height of his celebrity, he used to travel the world dishing out fake $100 bills with his face on them.

He once said: "Well, I think they broke the mould when they made me, and being humble is one of my great assets". But his global renown was never the be all and end all.

"My happiness comes from being a husband, father and grandfather of five, not from stardom, which is a fluke," he said.

Hagman was infamous for living life in the vein of his television character. He would drink five bottles of champagne a day while on set, but recently told this newspaper: "I was never a drunk".

He added: "I just took little slugs throughout the day. Nine o'clock in the morning to nine o'clock at night is 12 long hours. You can ingest a lot of alcohol in that time, but it was never too much."

He was diagnosed with cirrhosis of the liver in 1992 and three years later he had a liver transplant. His biography, Hello Darlin', revealed he kept a photo of the organ donor above his mirror, and would start every day with a prayer for him.

In October last year, Hagman discovered a tumour on his tongue, which turned out to be cancerous. Six weeks of chemotherapy and radiation followed, and he went into remission in March.

His death will leave a question mark over his Dallas character for the second time. In 1980, the show's third series ended by leaving viewers guessing who had shot J R in a stunt that helped to popularise the use of cliffhangers to keep audiences hungry for more. The episode set worldwide viewing records, with around 350 million people in 57 countries tuning in.

The actor, who was born in Fort Worth, Texas on 21 September 1931, also appeared in a number of films including Nixon and Primary Colours.

His mother, Mary Martin, was an actress and his father, Ben Hagman, was a lawyer.

Barbara Eden, his co-star in the long-running TV series I Dream of Jeannie, 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.

"Goodbye Larry, there was no one like you before and there will never be anyone like you again."

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs People

Guru Careers: Graduate Resourcer / Recruitment Account Executive

£18k + Bonus: Guru Careers: We are seeking a bright, enthusiastic and internet...

Reach Volunteering: Chair and trustees sought for YMCA Bolton

VOLUNTARY ONLY - EXPENSES REIMBURSED: Reach Volunteering: Bolton YMCA is now a...

Tradewind Recruitment: Geography Teacher

£150 - £180 per day: Tradewind Recruitment: Geography Teacher Geography teach...

Tradewind Recruitment: Geography Teacher

£150 - £180 per day: Tradewind Recruitment: Geography Teacher Geography teach...

Day In a Page

Blundering Tony Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

Blundering Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

For Arabs – and for Britons who lost their loved ones in his shambolic war in Iraq – his appointment was an insult, says Robert Fisk
Fifa corruption arrests: All hail the Feds for riding to football's rescue

Fifa corruption arrests

All hail the Feds for riding to football's rescue, says Ian Herbert
Isis in Syria: The Kurdish enclave still resisting the tyranny of President Assad and militant fighters

The Kurdish enclave still resisting the tyranny of Assad and Isis

In Syrian Kurdish cantons along the Turkish border, the progressive aims of the 2011 uprising are being enacted despite the war. Patrick Cockburn returns to Amuda
How I survived Cambodia's Killing Fields: Acclaimed surgeon SreyRam Kuy celebrates her mother's determination to escape the US

How I survived Cambodia's Killing Fields

Acclaimed surgeon SreyRam Kuy celebrates her mother's determination to escape to the US
Stephen Mangan interview: From posh buffoon to pregnant dad, the actor has quite a range

How Stephen Mangan got his range

Posh buffoon, hapless writer, pregnant dad - Mangan is certainly a versatile actor
The ZX Spectrum has been crowd-funded back into play - with some 21st-century tweaks

The ZX Spectrum is back

The ZX Spectrum was the original - and for some players, still the best. David Crookes meets the fans who've kept the games' flames lit
Grace of Monaco film panned: even the screenwriter pours scorn on biopic starring Nicole Kidman

Even the screenwriter pours scorn on Grace of Monaco biopic

The critics had a field day after last year's premiere, but the savaging goes on
Menstrual Hygiene Day: The strange ideas people used to believe about periods

Menstrual Hygiene Day: The strange ideas people once had about periods

If one was missed, vomiting blood was seen as a viable alternative
The best work perks: From free travel cards to making dreams come true (really)

The quirks of work perks

From free travel cards to making dreams come true (really)
Is bridge the latest twee pastime to get hip?

Is bridge becoming hip?

The number of young players has trebled in the past year. Gillian Orr discovers if this old game has new tricks
Long author-lists on research papers are threatening the academic work system

The rise of 'hyperauthorship'

Now that academic papers are written by thousands (yes, thousands) of contributors, it's getting hard to tell workers from shirkers
The rise of Lego Clubs: How toys are helping children struggling with social interaction to build better relationships

The rise of Lego Clubs

How toys are helping children struggling with social interaction to build better relationships
5 best running glasses

On your marks: 5 best running glasses

Whether you’re pounding pavements, parks or hill passes, keep your eyes protected in all weathers
Joe Root: 'Ben Stokes gives everything – he’s rubbing off on us all'

'Ben Stokes gives everything – he’s rubbing off on us all'

Joe Root says the England dressing room is a happy place again – and Stokes is the catalyst
Raif Badawi: Wife pleads for fresh EU help as Saudi blogger's health worsens

Please save my husband

As the health of blogger Raif Badawi worsens in prison, his wife urges EU governments to put pressure on the Saudi Arabian royal family to allow her husband to join his family in Canada