In Memoriam – Larry Hagman, 1931 – 2012

Actor Larry Hagman, best known for his roles on the TV series I Dream of Jeannie and Dallas died Friday morning, November 23.  He was 81.  He died after complications from throat cancer.  Born in Weatherford, Texas on September 21, 1931, Hagman was the son of actress Mary Martin who had a lengthy stage and film career.

After a stint in the U.S. Air Force, Hagman moved to New York and landed a role on the daytime drama The Edge of Night.  But, his popularity soared when he landed the role of an astronaut who discovers a genie in a bottle on I Dream of Jeannie in 1965.  Barbara Eden portrayed the genie.  Hagman rejuvenated his fame as the villainous oilman J.R. Ewing with Dallas, a prime time soap opera that premiered on CBS in 1978.

Hagman’s off-screen persona was even more eccentric.  In 1967, rock musician David Crosby turned him on to LSD, which Hagman said took away his fear of death, and Jack Nicholson introduced him to marijuana because Nicholson thought he was drinking too much.  When he first met actress Lauren Bacall, he licked her arm because he had been told she did not like to be touched and he was known for leading parades on the Malibu beach and showing up at a grocery store in a gorilla suit.  Above his Malibu home Hagman flew a flag with the statement “Vita Celebratio Est (Life Is a Celebration).”

By the 1990s, however, Hagman’s hard lifestyle caught up with him.  He developed liver cancer and cirrhosis.  He says he began drinking alcohol as a teenager and didn’t stop until 1992, when a doctor informed him he had cirrhosis.  He also claimed he drunk up to 4 bottles of champagne daily for more than a decade, including during his stint on Dallas.

In July 1995, he was diagnosed with liver cancer, which led him to quit smoking, and a month later he underwent a liver transplant.
After giving up his vices, Hagman said he did not lose his zest for life.  “It’s the same old Larry Hagman,” he told a reporter.  “He’s just a littler sober-er.”

In his later years, Hagman became an advocate for organ transplants and campaigned against smoking.  Hagman told the New York Times that, after his death, he wanted his remains to be “spread over a field and have marijuana and wheat planted and harvest it in a couple of years and then have a big marijuana cake, enough for 200 to 300 people.  People would eat a little of Larry.”

I have my own personal Larry Hagman story.  I met him and actress Linda Gray on the set of a Dallas episode in 1987.  I was an extra, appearing as a waiter in a banquet scene where a man professing to be “J.R. Ewing’s” father suddenly appeared to announced he was still alive after being presumed dead.  I held a platter of caviar, while standing near a table where Hagman and Gray were seated.  Gray asked me how long I’d been holding the platter.  “Well, they should be about ready to hatch,” I replied.  She and Hagman burst into laughter.  They were both actually very polite – and much taller than I’d imagined either to be.  That’s when I thought of being an actor, but decided writing was more important.

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