Larry Hagman: ‘Dallas’ & ‘I Dream of Jeannie’ star + son of Broadway legend Mary Martin has died
Larry Hagman, best known by some for playing Major Tony Nelson in the 1960s sitcom I Dream of Jeannie, by others for his role as the villainous J.R. Ewing in the ’80s soap opera Dallas, died earlier this evening at a Dallas hospital. The 81-year-old Ft. Worth native (born on Sept. 21, 1931) was in town working on the current Dallas reboot. (Image: Larry Hagman as Major Tony Nelson I Dream of Jeannie.)
Hagman had been in poor health for years. A one-time heavy smoker, he had also been a heavy drinker from a young age. In 1995, he underwent a liver transplant and was diagnosed with throat cancer last year.
Larry Hagman movies
Larry Hagman was featured in only 22 movies in the last five decades. Following a stint on stage and television, he made his film debut in a supporting role in Edgar G. Ulmer’s Italian-made The Cavern (1964). At that time, he landed a handful of other supporting roles, including those in three prestigious productions: Sidney Lumet’s Fail-Safe (1964), starring Henry Fonda, and The Group (1965), with Candice Bergen, Shirley Knight, and other young actresses; and Otto Preminger’s box office hit In Harm’s Way (1965), starring John Wayne, Kirk Douglas, and Patricia Neal.
Hagman’s movie career came to a halt when he began playing Major Tony Nelson – proving himself an outstanding light comedian – opposite Barbara Eden’s ditzy bottled genie in I Dream of Jeannie, which ran 1965-1970.
After that big lull, movie work became sporadic. Among Larry Hagman’s rare big-screen roles in the ’70s, almost invariably in small supporting roles, were those in Paul Mazursky’s Harry and Tonto (1974), Peter Yates’ Mother, Jugs & Speed (1976), John Sturges’ The Eagle Has Landed (1977), and Richard Donner’s Superman (1978).
Once the original Dallas became a monumental hit in the late ’70s, Hagman’s movie career once again came to a near-total halt. Yet, he managed to make his mark in at least two major feature films in the last three decades: Blake Edwards’ Hollywood satire S.O.B. (1981), as a studio executive, and Mike Nichols’ political drama Primary Colors (1998), in which Hagman delivers a flawless performance as a closeted gay (or bisexual) politician with a serious drug habit. Additionally, Hagman was one of the ensemble performers nominated for a SAG Award for Oliver Stone’s Nixon (1995).
According to the IMDb, Larry Hagman was last featured in a movie in Nikos Tzimas’ The Last Flight of the Swan (2011).
‘Dallas’ & J.R. Ewing: TV superstardom
Larry Hagman became a top television star as the conniving J.R. Ewing in the hit soap opera Dallas, which ran 1978-1991. During that period, he was nominated for four Golden Globes and two Emmy Awards. Hagman returned in 2012 for the Dallas reboot, which also brought back former cast members Patrick Duffy and Linda Gray.
Larry Hagman: Mary Martin’s son, environmentally conscious liberal
Larry Hagman was the son of Broadway legend Mary Martin, who made a handful of movies for Paramount in the ’40s (New York Town, True to Life). He had a troubled relationship with Martin, though in the late ’50s mother and son performed together in a London production of one of her biggest hits, South Pacific. His father was district attorney Benjamin Jack Hagman. (Hagman’s parents were divorced when he was five years old; Mary Martin later remarried and for decades was a close companion of Oscar winner Janet Gaynor.)
Quite unlike his Dallas character, Peace and Freedom Party member Larry Hagman was a liberal who once described then U.S. president George W. Bush as “a sad figure, not too well educated, who doesn’t get out of America much. He’s leading the country towards fascism.”
Also worth noting is that Hagman’s Ojai (Southern California) estate was thoroughly equipped with solar energy panels. He once claimed that those had been costly to install ($750,000), but his energy bills since then had been extremely low. Hagman also acted as a spokesperson for SolarWorld, telling viewers his oil days were in the past.
From 1954 to his death, Hagman was married to Maj Axelsson. His autobiography, Hello Darlin’: Tall (and Absolutely True) Tales About My Life, was published in 2001.