Good-bye, J.R. Ewing

When I arrived home from my morning walk today, I was greeted with news I didn’t want to hear. Larry Hagman, the man who played J.R. Ewing on the television show “Dallas,” has died. Maybe the news shouldn’t have come as a shock, but it did.

Larry Hagman was an 81-year-old man who had been plagued with health problems for years. He was a recovering alcoholic whose battle with cirrhosis caused him to undergo a liver transplant, in 1995.  In 2011, Hagman went public with a diagnosis of cancer. He faced it head-on; it seemed that nothing was going to slow him down. On November 23, 2012, that cancer took his life.

Iconic Western characters aren’t supposed to die. They just aren’t. And J.R. Ewing was iconic. The original “Dallas” series ran from 1978-1991.  J.R. Ewing was a scheming, conniving, ruthless, Texas oil tycoon. And, oh, how we loved to hate him!

Larry Hagman understood J.R.’s popularity, and he played it for all it was worth. Few actors embrace a character as fully as Hagman embraced J.R. Ewing. Hagman said, “As J.R., I could get away with anything—bribery, blackmail and adultery.” Hagman even wore J.R.’s trademark cowboy hat and boots, in his personal life. Fans were often given “$10,000 bills” with Hagman’s picture on them. He wasn’t afraid of being typecast!

When the 1980 season of “Dallas” left us with the world’s greatest cliffhanger, Hagman was delighted.  The “Who Shot J.R.?” episode is still the second most viewed television episode in history.  The summer of 1980 seemed to drag by while we guessed who had pulled the trigger. Hard-core “Dallas” fans sported “I Shot J.R.” t-shirts, until the 1981 season premier.

J.R. Ewing taught us some life lessons:

  • Even a scoundrel can love his mama.
  • Brothers may fight, but they probably won’t actually kill each other. (And, even if it looks like one of them died in the shower, it was probably just a dream!)
  • There’s no place like South Fork.
  • A cowboy hat and boots make you appear taller than you actually are.
  • If you do business with a snake, you will likely get bitten.
  • If J.R. was any indication, the love of money really is the root of all evil.
  • Texans don’t always ride horses; sometimes they drive Cadillacs.

In 2012, Hagman and several original cast members reprised their roles for TNT’s new version of “Dallas”.  Larry Hagman was, once again, in his element. He was back in the city he loved. Let it be known that the city of Dallas loved him right back. J.R. was still as bad as ever. And Hagman was having the time of his life—all over again.

Unlike J.R. Ewing, who said in a 2012 episode of “Dallas,” “Blood may be thicker than water, but oil is thicker than both,” Hagman treasured his family and friends. And he considered his fellow Ewings to be members of his family. He only agreed to reprise his role as J.R. because it meant having more time with his friends.

Few people get to go back and relive their hay-day. I’m so glad that Larry Hagman did. He passed away peacefully, in a Dallas hospital, surrounded by loved ones. Today, the gates of Southfork are crowded with people who remember the actor we loved and the character we hated.

So long, Pardner. . .so long!

Happy Trails, y’all!

Anita Lequoia

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