And so we bid farewell to Larry Hagman who has died today at the age of 81. To most of us he will always be JR Ewing, the lovable rogue he spent 13 years portraying in the TV drama Dallas. As the most scheming oil tycoon in town, JR in his Stetson became one of the most distinctive faces on television screens across the world. It quickly became one of the network’s top-rated programmes – with its 356 episodes being seen by an estimated 300 million people in 57 countries – and was revived this year.
His forthright biography, Hello Darlin’, detailed his youthful drug-taking exploits and revealed the extent of his 50-year battle with alcoholism. Even on the hardworking set of Dallas, he consumed five bottles of champagne a day for years and was finally diagnosed with cirrhosis of the liver in 1992. Three years later he had a liver transplant and kept a photo of the organ donor above his mirror. “I say a prayer for him every morning,” he said. Despite this, Hagman continued to drink secretly until a further life-saving operation in 2003 forced him to stop.
I can still remember the furore around the “Who Shot JR?” mystery in 1980. It was one of the most talked about stories of that year with Hagman even being offered £100,000 during a British vacation to reveal the identity of the shooter, but he admitted that neither he nor anyone in the cast knew the answer. Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother was apparently among the millions worldwide intrigued by the mystery, and a session of the Turkish parliament was suspended to allow legislators a chance to get home in time to view the Dallas episode with the answer.
I like to think he is now sitting in his Southfork Ranch in the sky, still wearing his Stetson, and still smiling that slightly sinister smile as he reflects on a full and fascinating life story that was just as dramatic in real life as that which was seen on the screen!