One Year Later, Larry Hagman’s Legacy Lives

Dallas, J.R. Ewing, Larry Hagman, TNT

Remember the titan

The first anniversary of Larry Hagman’s death is November 23, although to me, he never really went away. Hagman’s old “Dallas” episodes run on a seemingly endless loop in my house. I watch him all the time, and that would probably be true even if I didn’t write and edit this website. Larry Hagman still brings me joy. The other day, I re-visited the 1983 segment where J.R. goes to the Oil Baron’s Ball and slyly insults every relative seated near him. With each gleeful quip, Hagman’s smile couldn’t be contained. Neither could mine.

Do I wish Hagman were still around, filming new episodes of TNT’s “Dallas” revival? Of course, although given the remarkable body of work he left behind (more than 380 appearances as J.R. in the various “Dallas” shows, spinoffs and sequels), to want more from him feels almost greedy. Likewise, while I’ll always regret that I never met my hero, I did get to speak to him on the phone once. How lucky am I? By most accounts, Hagman was a hell of a guy — joyful, generous, wise, progressive, amusingly eccentric — and so one year after his death, whatever sadness I feel is reserved for the people who knew him best. As a fan, I lost an actor whose work I admired from afar. But Hagman’s family and friends? They lost a real, special man.

Don’t get me wrong: Hagman’s death upset me a year ago. He died on the day after Thanksgiving, giving Black Friday a whole other meaning. Now the timing feels kind of cosmic. The anniversary of his death will always come two days after the anniversary of the “Who Shot J.R.?” revelation and around Thanksgiving, reminding us to feel grateful for the wonderful performances he gave us. We can also feel thankful to the people who help keep Hagman’s memory alive, including the folks who run his Facebook page, which offers a treasure trove of rare photographs and other mementos. For that matter, we should also give thanks to the “Dallas” producers and cast members,  who have done an impressive job honoring their show’s biggest star. The episode where Hagman’s alter ego is laid to rest, “J.R.’s Masterpiece,” lived up to its title, but the tributes haven’t stopped there. Showrunner Cynthia Cidre has promised to keep Hagman’s name atop the production call sheets for the duration of the series, reminding the cast and crew that “Dallas” is the house Hagman built.

There are also hints that J.R. will figure into next season’s storylines, wheeling and dealing from beyond the grave, and a recent tweet from the set suggests Josh Henderson will sport his on-screen daddy’s signature wristwatch and belt buckle. If the producers are looking for one more way to honor Hagman, “Dallas” fan Joe Siegler has a nifty suggestion: Instead of continuing to have the cast take turns delivering each episode’s “Previously on ‘Dallas’” voiceover, why not use Hagman’s version exclusively? This would be a small gesture, but I can’t imagine a better way to start each new hour of “Dallas” than by hearing J.R.’s voice.

Of course, Hagman’s legacy extends beyond the show he made famous. We live in a golden age of television drama, populated by antiheroes like Walter White and Don Draper. None of them would exist if J.R. Ewing hadn’t come first. What a shame so many TV critics neglect to mention that. Even more shameful: Hagman’s omission from the special tributes during this year’s Emmy broadcast and his snub in the dramatic supporting actor race. Few performers deserved Emmy recognition more than Hagman this year — and not just because he didn’t receive a trophy during the original “Dallas’s” heyday. Hagman did some of the best work of his career on the TNT series. One example: last year’s “Family Business” episode, which showcased his powerful, poignant portrait of the aging J.R.

On the other hand: Who needs Emmys? If the past year has taught me anything, it’s how much affection “Dallas” fans have for Hagman. Our love for him is deep and real, and it will sustain his legacy for a long time to come. It’s another reason I don’t feel a strong sense of loss as the anniversary of his death approaches. The truth is, Larry Hagman isn’t really gone; he just lives in our hearts now.

How will you remember Larry Hagman and J.R. Ewing? Share your comments below and read more opinions from Dallas Decoder.

Comments

  1. I couldn’t agree with you more! I love this article as I do LarryHagman!

  2. Jennifer Irons says:

    My favorite memory of Larry was when he was out and about with Patrick and Linda! The 3 Musketeers! JR was the best villain on tv, bar none, in my opinion. He could be a scoundrel but also show a heart of gold at times! Did you know today is the 33rd anniversary of the big reveal of “Who Shot JR?” My coworker told me this today and I was stunned that it has been that long since this awesome cliffhanger!

  3. Kyle Willson says:

    Chris, as always your words were eloquent and informative. I think having Larry introducing the “previous” segments is an excellent, perfectly apt and respectful idea.
    I couldn’t have said anything about J.R.’s anniversary any better than you did so I won’t.
    I miss him. Nuff said from me.
    Long live our favourite anti- hero!
    Kyle W

  4. brian smith says:

    a very under-rated actor he could do it all ie drama, comedy i dont understand how the man never won a emmy

  5. I will never forget Tony the Astronaut, John Ross Ewing The IInd (aka: “J. R.”), or Larry Hagman! That dude rocked every role he played! Its b/c he didn’t just “play” each character, no he “inhabited” them!

  6. I can’t believe it’s a year ago already! I’m watching the re-runs of classic Dallas in the UK on the CBS Drama channel – we’ve reached the “dream” season – Larry is so good as JR it’s almost painful.
    He was also very good as the inept US Army Major in the film “The Eagle Has Landed” and the political candidate in the film “Primary Colors”.
    God bless you Larry!!!!!

  7. Hi Chris,

    I am so sorry that you never had the opportunitity to meet Larry, Chris. I met him twice in Germany. The first time I saw him with Linda Gray in a theatre in Cologne performing Love Letters. After the show Larry and Linda went back to their hotel followed by dozens of maniac fans of Dallas. Back in the hotel Larry was surrounded by fans. He was given a huge flag. He really reacted like a big child! Incredible.

    The second time I saw him was in a break of a tv show. I went to him, I even touched his hand. I looked into his eyes. Itwas so crazy. I knew so much about but him but he did not know anything about me!. I asked him wether he received a book about flags which I send him. He confirmed that he got it and was very grateful to me!
    What can I say? That man had really nothing in common with JR! Larry Hagman was the absolute opposite of JR Ewing: warm, funny, easygoing, a big child. I wonder how he could play that texas bastard.

    He died a year ago. R.I.P. Larry

    Michael from Germany

  8. Zachary Summers says:

    I really loved this article. You are absolutely right Larry Hagman really isn’t gone as he is in our hearts. He will be missed but never ever forgotten. Long live Larry Hagman aka JR Ewing.

  9. Very nice remembrance piece. I think you’ve captured his legacy well. I’m glad the show is making an effort to acknowledge his enduring role in its success.

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