Dallas star Larry Hagman dies aged 81

The actor, who found worldwide fame as villainous JR Ewing, passed away on Friday

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Dallas star Larry Hagman dies aged 81
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David Brown

Dallas star Larry Hagman, who played villainous oil baron JR Ewing in the hit US supersoap, has died aged 81.

Hagman, who had suffered from cancer and cirrhosis of the liver, passed away in hospital on Friday.

“Larry was back in his beloved Dallas, re-enacting the iconic role he loved the most,” his family said in a statement. “Larry’s family and close friends had joined him in Dallas for the Thanksgiving holiday. When he passed, he was surrounded by loved ones. It was a peaceful passing, just as he had wished for. The family requests privacy at this time.”

Long-time friend Linda Gray, who plays the long-suffering Sue Ellen in Dallas and was by Hagman’s bedside when he died, added: “Larry Hagman was my best friend for 35 years. He was the Pied Piper of life and brought joy to everyone he knew. He was creative, funny, loving and talented, and I will miss him enormously."

Born in 1931 to actress Mary Martin and lawyer Ben Hagman, Larry Hagman first tasted success in the 1960s as Major Tony Nelson on the US sitcom I Dream of Jeannie, where he co-starred with Barbara Eden. But he became world famous in the role of dastardly tycoon JR Ewing in Dallas, a part he returned to in 2012 for a revival which aired in the UK on Channel 5. The original incarnation of the series, which ran from 1978 to 1991, was a phenomenon seen by an estimated 300 million people in 57 countries.

During 1980, the Who Shot JR? whodunit - in which Hagman’s character was shot  - became the stuff of TV legend, with the episode in which his would-be killer was revealed remaining the 16th most-watched programme of all time in the UK, with a viewing figure of 21.6 million.

But Hagman’s hard-drinking lifestyle (he regularly consumed five bottles of champagne a day on the set of Dallas) was to catch up with him. In July 1995, Hagman was diagnosed with liver cancer, which led him to quit smoking, while a month later he underwent a liver transplant. In recent years, he became an anti-smoking campaigner and an advocate for organ transplants.

Warner Bros, and Dallas’s executive producers Cynthia Cidre and Michael Robin, said today: "Larry Hagman was a giant, a larger-than-life personality whose iconic performance as JR Ewing will endure as one of the most indelible in entertainment history. He truly loved portraying this globally recognised character, and he leaves a legacy of entertainment, generosity and grace." 

Dallas is currently midway through production of its second season and programme-makers have announced that today's sad news will be incorporated into the storyline. Channel 5 will air A Tribute to Larry Hagman: At Home with JR tomorrow night at 9pm.

See a recent video interview that Larry Hagman and Linda Gray gave to Radio Times here.

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