On this day in 2012, Larry Hagman, who starred in such television shows as “Dallas” and “I Dream of Jeannie,” dies at age 81 of complications from cancer at a hospital in Dallas. Hagman was best known for his role as the villainous Texas oil baron J.R. Ewing on “Dallas,” which aired from 1978 to 1991 and was revived in 2012.
Hagman was born on September 21, 1931, in Fort Worth, Texas, to actress Mary Martin, who would become known for her roles in Broadway musicals including “Peter Pan,” “South Pacific” and “The Sound of Music,” and Benjamin Hagman, a lawyer. After graduating from high school in Weatherford, Texas, the younger Hagman briefly attended Bard College before dropping out to pursue acting. During the Korean War, he served in the U.S. Air Force, producing and directing shows for American troops. Following his military service, Hagman worked as a New York stage actor in the late 1950s and early 1960s. He also appeared on various TV series, including a two-year stint on the daytime soap opera “The Edge of Night.” Hagman made his movie debut in 1964’s “Ensign Pulver,” whose cast also included Jack Nicholson.
Hagman’s breakout role was on the hit sitcom “I Dream of Jeannie,” which aired from 1965 to 1970. He played astronaut Tony Nelson, who becomes “master” to a genie (played by Barbara Eden) whom he releases from a bottle he finds on a desert island. Following “I Dream of Jeannie,” Hagman appeared in several short-lived TV shows before the 1978 debut of “Dallas,” the prime-time soap opera about a wealthy, feuding Texas family, the Ewings. J.R. Ewing was originally intended to be a supporting character, but as portrayed by Hagman, the gleefully conniving, cowboy-hatted oil tycoon became the star of the show and someone audiences loved to hate.
In the cliffhanger finale of the show’s second full season, broadcast on March 21, 1980, J.R. was gunned down by an unknown assailant, and the question of who shot him soon became a pop culture phenomenon. Hagman landed on multiple magazine covers, there were “I Shot J.R.” T-shirts and bookmakers even took bets on the identity of the person who pulled the trigger. The answer, finally revealed eight months later in an episode that aired November 21, 1980, turned out to be J.R.’s scorned ex-mistress, Kristin Shepard (played by Mary Crosby). The episode was seen by an estimated 350 million viewers around the globe, and remains the second-highest-rated television program in U.S. history, after the final episode of “M*A*S*H” in 1983. J.R. survived the shooting, and Hagman went on to appear in all 357 episodes of the original “Dallas.”
After “Dallas” ended in 1991, Hagman had roles in movies including “Nixon” (1995) and “Primary Colors” (1998) and made appearances on “Nip/Tuck,” “Desperate Housewives” and other television shows. In October 2011 the actor, who developed cirrhosis after years of heavy drinking and had a liver transplant in 1995, announced he had cancer but still would reprise his role as J.R. Ewing on the revival of “Dallas.” The rebooted “Dallas” premiered in June 2012, and Hagman died on November 23 of that same year. His death later was worked into the show, and in an episode that aired on March 4, 2013, the iconic J.R. was shot and killed by a then-unknown assailant.