Larry Hagman Biography

Television Producer, Theater Actor, Actor, Television Actor (1931–2012)
Larry Hagman starred opposite Barbara Eden on the sitcom I Dream of Jeannie and played J.R. Ewing on the primetime drama Dallas.


Born on September 21, 1931, in Fort Worth, Texas, Larry Hagman landed his first major television role on I Dream of Jeannie in 1965. His most iconic role was playing villainous oil tycoon J.R. Ewing on the primetime soap Dallas. Hagman had a liver transplant in 1995, and then returned to acting. He guest-starred on the plastic surgery drama Nip/Tuck in 2006, and reprised his role as J.R. Ewing on the 2012 television reboot of Dallas. Hagman died on November 23, 2012, at the age of 81, from complications of cancer.

Early Years

Actor, producer and director Larry Hagman was born on September 21, 1931, in Fort Worth, Texas, to actress Mary Martin and lawyer Ben Hagman. After his parents divorced, Hagman moved to Los Angeles with his grandmother and mother. His mother, who ran a dance studio in Texas, moved to California to try to break into Hollywood. She went to a number of auditions, earning the nickname "Audition Mary," and worked hard to network with influential people in show business. At one point, she befriended gossip columnist Hedda Hopper, who was known to babysit Larry on occasion.

As his mother's career took off, Hagman was placed more and more in the care of his grandmother. But when Hagman's grandmother died, the 12-year-old boy was sent to New York City to be reunited with his mother. His mother had a thriving career on Broadway and had wed her second husband, Richard Halliday. During that time, Martin and Halliday also welcomed Hagman's half-sister, Mary.

Hagman was sent to boarding schools, where he first started drinking alcohol—a habit that would become a serious problem for him later in life. He then returned to Texas for the last two years of high school. There Hagman lived with his father, in the small town of Weatherford. During those two years, he developed an interest in theater and showed great promise as a performer.

After high school, Hagman spent a year at Bard College in Annandale-on-Hudson, New York. He then decided to follow in his mother's footsteps, and took to the stage. He had a small role in a New York City production of Taming of the Shrew, and spent some time doing regional theater during the early 1950s. Joining his mother, Hagman then appeared in the London production of South Pacific.

Hagman was forced to take a break from the stage in 1952, when he was drafted into the U.S. Air Force. He still found time for theater, however, and during his time in the service Hagman worked on productions for his fellow soldiers. After leaving the Air Force in 1956, Hagman returned to New York City, where he landed roles in several plays.

'I Dream of Jeannie'

Hagman's big career break did not come until he decided to return to Hollywood. In 1965, Hagman landed a role on his first major television series, I Dream of Jeannie, which was created by writer Sidney Sheldon. On the sitcom, Hagman played Tony Nelson, an astronaut who discovers a bottle with a genie, played by Barbara Eden, trapped inside.

Hagman and Eden proved to be a popular pairing with lots of on-screeen chemistry. In his 2001 memoir Hello Darlin', Tall (and Absolutely True) Tales About My Life, Hagman wrote about the success of the show: "It was good wholesome, escapist fun, with a healthy dose of sexual tension."

The sitcom, which was on the air for five years, also gave Hagman a chance to show off his comedic talents and work behind the camera, directing several episodes.

J.R. Ewing on 'Dallas'

After finding sitcom stardom, Hagman found success by taking on darker material, including his most famous role: Playing J.R. Ewing, the villainous oil tycoon, on the hugely popular night-time soap opera Dallas. The show, which debuted in the spring of 1978, followed the lives of the Ewings, a wealthy Texas family. As J.R. Ewing, Hagman clashed with his brothers Bobby, played by Patrick Duffy, and Gary, played by Ted Shackelford, over the family's business. Linda Gray played his alcoholic wife, Sue Ellen.

J.R. Ewing was the kind of character that audiences loved to hate. At the end of the 1979-1980 season, viewers had to puzzle over one of the most riveting cliffhangers of television history??: "Who shot J.R.?" As one of the most popular characters on TV, J.R. survived his injuries and Hagman remained on the show until its end in 1991.

Fans were delighted when Hagman reprised his role on the 2012 television reboot of Dallas; he returned with fellow original cast members Patrick Duffy and Linda Gray, along with a new ensemble of actors.

Personal Life

Hagman experienced a health crisis in 1992, when he was diagnosed with cirrhosis of the liver. Years of drinking had taken its toll on his health, and after a malignant tumor was found on his liver, in August 1995, he underwent a 16-hour liver transplant. 

After struggling with his health, Hagman returned to acting. He played another corrupt Texas oilman in Oliver Stone's 1995 movie Nixon, appeared in several Dallas television movies and guest-starred on TV series, including the plastic surgery drama Nip/Tuck in 2006.

In 2011, Hagman revelead that he had been diagnosed with cancer, and spoke candidly about his wife's battle with Alzheimer's disease.

Death and Legacy

Despite his personal struggles, Hagman remained positive and continued to portray his most famous character, J.R. Ewing, on Dallas. Sadly, Hagman died in Dallas on November 23, 2012, at the age of 81, from complications of cancer. He is survived by and his wife Maj and his two children, Kristina Mary and Preston Hagman, along with five granddaughters. After his death, his I Dream of Jeannie co-star Barbara Eden said of Hagman: "I can honestly say that we've lost not just a great actor, not just a television icon, but an element of pure Americana."

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