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Larry Hagman

Larry Hagman

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Also Known As: Larry Martin Hagman Died: November 23, 2012
Born: September 21, 1931 Cause of Death: Cancer
Birth Place: Fort Worth, Texas, USA Profession: Cast ... actor
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BIOGRAPHY

Larry Hagman could boast not one, but two, indelible characters during his storied acting career. After early work off-Broadway and scoring bit parts on several television series, Hagman made headway with a pair of roles in the feature films "Ensign Pulver" (1964) and "Fail Safe" (1964). He soon enjoyed mainstream success as astronaut Anthony Nelson opposite gorgeous wish-granter Barbara Eden on the classic sitcom "I Dream of Jeannie" (NBC, 1965-1970). Hagman later tried his luck with a couple failed sitcoms, while appearances - usually as a unrepentant cad - in films like "Mother, Juggs & Speed" (1976) and "The Eagle Has Landed" (1976) kept him in the public eye, if not always in the most flattering light. Then, after 20 years in the business, the veteran actor became a true television icon as the unscrupulous oil tycoon J.R. Ewing on the pop-culture phenomenon "Dallas" (CBS, 1978-1991). In the years that followed "Dallas," the actor popped up occasionally in films like "Nixon" (1995) and "Primary Colors" (1998), although poor health and lackluster projects stood in the way of a return to the top of the TV ratings. That was until he returned to the city that made him famous, once again starring as J.R. on a series continuation of "Dallas" (TNT, 2012- ), one of the surprise hits of year. By now so famous that even his eyebrows had their own Facebook page, Hagman was once again a primetime star, even in the twilight of his career. Sadly for fans, he would pass away of cancer before the second season of his monumental comeback.

Larry Martin Hagman was born on Sept. 21, 1931 in Fort Worth, TX. His mother, Mary Martin, was a well-known Broadway actress, and his father, Benjamin Jack Hagman, was a district attorney. His parents divorced when he was five, and shortly after that, his mother moved to New York City to pursue her Broadway career. Hagman lived with his grandmother in California until she died, sending the future actor back to living with his mother, who married Richard Halliday in 1940. In 1946, he moved back to Weatherford, TX, where he attended high school and drama classes. He soon gained a fan base for his comedic roles and in between school terms, Hagman took minor roles in local stage productions. In 1949, he graduated from high school and seriously took up acting as a career path. He appeared in "The Taming of the Shrew" in New York City, followed by a number of tent show musicals with St. John Terrell's Music Circus in St. Petersburg, FL, and Lambertville, NJ. In 1951, he appeared in the London production of "South Pacific" with his mother. A year later, he was drafted into the United States Air Force and was stationed in London. He reportedly spent his service career entertaining U.S. troops in England and other European military bases. It was while being stationed overseas that Hagman met his longtime wife, Maj Axelsson, whom he would go on to have two children with, Heidi Kristina and Preston.

The fledgling actor returned to New York in 1956 after leaving the military. He appeared in numerous off-Broadway plays such as "Once Around the Block" by William Saroyan and "Career" by James Lee. He finally made his Broadway debut in "Comes a Day," which was followed by four other Broadway productions, "God and Kate Murphy," "The Nervous Set," "The Warm Peninsula" and "The Beauty Part." Around the same time, Hagman appeared on several TV shows, like the soap opera "The Edge of Night" (CBS, 1956-1975, ABC, 1975-1984), where he stayed for two years as Ed Gibson. He made his film debut in 1964 with the military comedy "Ensign Pulver" and also appeared in the Sidney Lumet-directed Cold War drama "Fail Safe" opposite Henry Fonda.

More guest-starring roles on television followed, but Hagman really hit it big when he was cast to play Barbara Eden's small-screen leading man, Major Tony Nelson, on the sitcom "I Dream of Jeannie." The show, about a female genie and her astronaut master-turned-husband, was a moderate success for the peacock network when it first aired, but gained popularity through syndication and was the channel's answer to its rival, ABC's fantasy-based series "Bewitched" (1964-1972). The show's popularity began waning five years later; during the last season, Major Tony finally married Jeannie. Hagman also directed three episodes in 1967. However, he was reportedly difficult to work with and was close to being replaced, yet NBC executives loved him and refused to see anyone else take over his role. He did not appear in the television films "I Dream of Jeannie: 15 Years Later" (NBC, 1985), where he was replaced by actor Wayne Rogers, and "I Still Dream of Jeannie" (NBC, 1991), where Major Tony was written off completely. It took 29 years for Hagman to reunite with Eden, when they both appeared on the "The Donny and Marie Show" (syndicated, 1998-2000).

The actor starred on short-lived series after "Jeannie" called "Here We Go Again" (ABC, 1973), about a couple who moves next door to their former spouses, and "The Good Life" (NBC, 1971-72), along with cameos on numerous shows such as "The Streets of San Francisco" (ABC, 1972-77) and "The Rockford Files" (NBC, 1974-1980). He had mild success on the big screen in the 1970s, with an appearance as Porter Lee Austin in "Stardust" (1974) and as Major in "Superman" (1978). Hagman struck TV gold one more time with "Dallas," in which he played the defining role of J.R. Ewing, a conniving businessman who has a love/hate relationship with his family. The show also featured Patrick Duffy as J.R.'s younger brother Bobby, Victoria Principal as his sister-in-law Pamela, and Linda Gray as J.R.'s long-suffering wife Sue Ellen. While the show centered on the lives of Bobby and Pamela, it was evident from the onset that it was J.R. who most fascinated the viewers. Hagman portrayed J.R. so eerily well - complete with the accent and sinister laugh - that some critics thought that he might have been overdoing it. But Hagman, a native Texan, explained that he drew on his many experiences growing up in the Lone Star State to bring authenticity and layers to his abrasive character. The actor was even asked to appear on the "Dallas" spin-off "Knots Landing" (CBS, 1979-1993).

By the end of the second season, "Dallas" and its cast were household names. The spring 1980 episode "Who Shot J.R.?" was viewed by more than 350 million fans and remained the second highest-rated show in the history of that network. At the beginning of the third season, the audience was riveted after spending that summer wagering bets on just who fired off the shots. During all this media frenzy, Hagman, who was holding out for a higher salary, did not return to the third season until later. There was even talk among producers of possibly writing J.R. out of the plot. Mid-season, the producers realized that Dallas could not go on with him, and from then on, Hagman was reportedly paid $75,000 to $100,000 per episode. For his work on the primetime soap, Hagman was nominated for two Emmys and four Golden Globes. Hagman strangely never one these esteemed awards, but did nab a Soap Opera Digest Award for Outstanding Villain on a Primetime Serial. The decline in Dallas' ratings mirrored Hagman's personal life. He was drinking, and smoking heavily at the time and eventually developed cirrhosis of the liver. Reports that he drank four bottles of champagne on the set were rampant. By the end of the 13th season in 1991, not even J.R. could save the show and producers had no choice but to end it.

Now a free agent, Hagman appeared in such films as "Nixon" (1995) and "Primary Colors" (1998). A cancer scare in the mid-1990s made Hagman quit both his vices and become an advocate for a smoke-free lifestyle. In 1995, he underwent a life-saving liver transplant. He was chairman of the American Cancer Society's annual Great American Smokeout for many years, and he also worked on behalf of the National Kidney Foundation. The actor did find time to return to the role that made his career with appearances in a couple of television movies inspired by the series: "Dallas: J.R. Returns" (1996) and "Dallas: War of the Ewings" (1998). He also appeared on the short-lived TV series "Orleans" as Judge Luther Charbonnet, and guest starred as Burt Landau, a billionaire who wanted testicular implants, on the fourth season of the medical drama "Nip/Tuck" (2003-2010), but apart from occasional guest appearances, kept a relatively low profile. Following a pair of guest turns on a Mexican telenovella and a German comedy series, Hagman returned briefly to film where he played a corporate president in the cautionary drama "Flight of the Swan" (2010), which also featured his former TV spouse Linda Gray. In 2011, he made a guest appearance in two episodes of "Desperate Housewives" (ABC, 2004-2012) during its seventh season as the new husband of Stella (Polly Bergan), the mother of housewife Lynette Scavo (Felicity Huffman). Unfortunately, the 79-year-old actor's health would once again threaten his return to performing full time. In the summer of 2011, Hagman announced that he had been diagnosed with stage 2 throat cancer. There was hope, however, as his doctors had informed him that it was a very treatable form of the disease and that they would be treating it aggressively.

So optimistic was he about the prognosis that Hagman moved forward with his planned return to regular series television on nothing less than a "reboot" of "Dallas" (TNT, 2012- ). Picking up 20 years after the events of the original's series finale, the reinvigorated primetime soap opera reunited Hagman's J.R. with former cast members Patrick Duffy and Linda Gray in their roles as Bobby and Sue Ellen. While the elder generation would play a significant role on the show, the main focus had shifted to the Ewing scions John Ross (Josh Henderson) and Christopher (Jesse Metcalfe), sons of J.R. and Bobby, respectively. As their fathers had before them, the young tycoons battled each other for control of the Ewing Empire amidst a backdrop of sex, greed and betrayal. Proving that the concept still had legs, the new "Dallas" ended its season as one of basic cable's top-rated new drama series and was quickly approved for a second season. In the meantime, longtime fans of Hagman could follow and discuss the beloved actor on the social networking website Facebook, as he - and his notoriously long eyebrows - each had their own dedicated page. Sadly, before the second season would air, Hagman passed away, fittingly, in Dallas, at age 81 of cancer. His longtime co-stars Patrick Duffy and Linda Gray were at his bedside when he passed.

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