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Larry Hagman as J.R.: A TV villain for all ages

Associated Press Modified: November 24, 2012 at 11:46 am •  Published: November 24, 2012
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But his popularity exceeded that for even a notable bad guy. This, too, is a credit to Hagman's portrayal. By all indications, the glorious rascalness that made J.R. such fun to watch was lifted intact from Hagman's own lively personality.

During last June's lunch interview with Hagman and Linda Gray (J.R.'s long-suffering onetime wife, Sue Ellen), Gray recalled the day the "Dallas" cast first met.

"He walks in, this man with a cowboy hat," said Gray, "and I thought, 'What's this?' To me, he was still the astronaut from 'I Dream of Jeannie.' Then he looked at me and he went, 'Hello, darlin'.' And that was it: I thought, Oh, darn, this is gonna be fun."

"She THREW herself at me!" Hagman broke in. "She'd had a couple of glasses of champagne already, and she put her arms around me and said, 'I'm your WIFE!'"

"Where do you come up with these stories?" Gray, laughing, fired back at the man she would describe at his passing months later as "my best friend for 35 years."

What made J.R. irresistible, and always forgivable, was his high-spiritedness, his love of the game. Despite the legendary fortune of the Ewings, J.R. didn't flaunt his wealth. (Southfork was comfortable all right, but not ostentatious. If you wanted to see a prime-time soap whose characters threw their money around, you switched over to ABC and watched "Dynasty.") J.R. savored power, not things. He loved doing to others before they did it to him, and he usually succeeded.

Operating with such diabolical zest, J.R. appalled viewers, yet they always rooted for him. And relied on him to prevail. Back in 1980, they played an obsessive guessing game of Who Shot J.R.? But no one for a moment imagined he would die.

This makes Hagman's passing difficult for fans to comprehend. And it raises an obvious question: During the new season of TNT's "Dallas," which begins Jan. 28, will J.R. have to die?

On some level, his fate seems unavoidable. But for viewers who have hate-loved J.R. for decades, there's a different answer: Thanks to Larry Hagman, J.R. is forever.

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EDITOR'S NOTE — Frazier Moore is a national television columnist for The Associated Press. He can be reached at fmoore(at)ap.org and at http://www.twitter.com/tvfrazier