“Who shot JR?” were three words that helped catapult actor Larry Hagman to an iconic status. He was already a television legend, loved by millions for his role as Captain Tony Nelson in I Dream of Jeannie, when Dallas came along.
It was actually his wife Maj, who encouraged Larry to take on the role of J.R. Ewing. He wasn’t immediately sold on the project. Not even he could have predicted that his portrayal of the villain, who everyone loved to hate, would take his fame to a whole new level.
Larry was so good at playing the scandalous J.R. that it became very easy for the public to believe that he was his character. This interview reminds us that Larry is not the fictional Texas oilman, whose only devotions in life are to money and power.
In fact, the only power Larry seems devoted to is solar power. He turned his mansion on the West Coast into the largest home property in America to run entirely on solar energy. The only money he was enthusiastic about in our talk was his utility savings, and the gas money he saved on his eco-friendly Prius.
Larry’s also devoted to his wife of over fifty years, along with their kids and grandkids. He’s tried to teach the Hagman offspring about all the good things in life, which have very little to do with material possessions.
Now, let us assure you that art will not imitate the life and good deeds of Larry Hagman this summer. He’s back, along with Linda Gray and Patrick Duffy, as they reprise their roles as J.R., Sue Ellen and Bobby in Dallas: The Next Generation on TNT. June 13th is the date we’re invited back to Southfork, as a new generation of Ewings have their say in the family dynasty. J.R. of course, will be sure that his son John Ross understands that life is all about money and power.
I spoke with Larry by phone, and attempted to understand the reality of an iconic actor, who does an amazing job of making us believe.
Larry, on November 21, 1980, three hundred and fifty million fans from fifty-seven countries around the world tuned in to see who shot J.R. Ewing. What was it like to be at the epicenter of this whole saga? Well, it was quite a phenomenon. Nobody knew the show was going to do that. Also, I had been holding out for little more salary. I missed ten days of shooting. We had a lot of litigation going on there, but it all worked out very well for everybody. We went on to do another eleven years.
Did you ever find that level of fame of overwhelming? No. I was used to fame. You know, I come from a theatrical family so I was kind of used to that. Plus, I also had I Dream of Jeannie, which was very successful. It’s still on the air after forty-six years.
You were born in Forth Worth, Texas to Broadway legend Mary Martin. What important lessons did you learn from your mother about show business? She taught me to know your lines, hang up your costumes and stay reasonably sober. Well, I did two of them at least.
She got to see quite a bit of your success. What did she think of your Dallas fame? She was very happy with it. She was also happy with I Dream of Jeannie but Dallas was such a huge success. She was quite happy with it all.
What is your impression of the Dallas area in recent years? I was down there for four months recently shooting Dallas: The Next Generation. It’s like the recession never hit Dallas. I don’t know what it is. There’s so much building and everything going on. Everybody seems to be so full of energy. I didn’t see any recession going on down there.
What was your immediate feeling when you got the call that Dallas was coming back to the air? I was very happy that I get to work with Patrick Duffy and Linda Gray again. We’re all good friends. We see each other often, even when we’re not working.
Can you describe the chemistry that you have with Linda Gray and Patrick Duffy? These are my buddies. Patrick lives up in Oregon. He comes down for different jobs. Anytime he’s in town, we have lunch or dinner. Ms. Gray and I see each other about twice a month for lunch or dinner.
What are some of the most important elements that you wanted to see in the new version of Dallas? Oooooh…that J.R. is revered and feared. My son (John Ross) has inherited my fatal mistakes of course. He’s doing very well with it. I’m teaching him what I can.
You know J.R. Ewing in a way that the rest of the world does not. Can you tell us something about him that we may have missed? I can’t think of a single thing. The guy’s a bounder. His son is a bounder. What can you say nice about J.R.? Nothing really. He enjoys life. He lost about two billions dollars. His wife took it. Everybody thinks he’s rich, but he’s not anymore. Sue Ellen has all the money. Bobby has the ranch. J.R. has to fight to come back. But you know, he’s been in the same house all these years with his family. He was there with his wife, his brother and his brother’s wife. I mean that to me was always so bizarre. Can you imagine all those people living in the same house?
J.R. is facing some challenges in the new series. You’ve also dealt with challenges of a different kind over the years. Did having the liver transplant change you on an emotional or spiritual level? I had an out of body experience, you know. I saw the white light that people talk about. I loved it. I think it all made me much more compassionate and loving.
How are you doing in regard to your cancer treatment? Very good. Right now they say I’m cured.
That’s incredible to hear! Larry, what is a creative outlet for you when you’re not acting? Well, I’m into green stuff now. I have the largest solar home in America. It brought my electric bill down to less than a hundred dollars a year. I also had to have a Prius. We now have five Priuses in the family. Everybody has one. Now I can just plug my cars in and that takes care of the gasoline prices.
When did you become so environmentally conscious? I had this ranch. I had my own water system … my own helicopter pad. I grow my own food. The one thing I needed for my food is water to irrigate it. I needed a source of power for that, which was not on the grid. I put it in solar power for my irrigation. I liked it so much, so I put it in for the rest of my house. It just makes me feel good to use this clean energy.
This is great, because as a public figure you’re inspiring a new way of thinking for a lot of people. Not only that, but I’m known for being the biggest oilman since Rockefeller. You know, I’ve also switched to vegetarianism. I’ve lost about twenty-five lbs because of that. I thought it might help with going through the chemotherapy recently. I also grow vegetables without all the chemicals. Just let the bugs get half of what you’re growing. I just plant a lot of it. It’s a little challenging finding places to eat and cooking for yourself, but I really feel good.
Do you believe that humans have a connection to the earth that we need to get back to? I think we have a connection to ourselves. We need to connect with our brothers and sisters to make their lives better too. The earth of course is our spiritual guide, and is getting mad at us. That’s why we’re having tsunamis and earthquakes and all that kind of stuff.
It seems kind of like an immune system response from a planet trying to heal itself. Well, we just passed seven billion people recently on this planet. Isn’t that something?
What age do you feel like in your mind? Sixteen. I haven’t changed all since I was sixteen. I have the same mindset, but a little more compassionate.
You’re a funny guy! Well, especially when I get down to Texas and they want to talk about politics. You can’t talk about politics anymore. People get so upset. I go to a party down there and they’ll ask me a political question. I say, “I’m sorry. I only talk about sex, drugs and rock and roll!”
What do you try to teach your kids and grandkids about life and just being human? Compassion is a learned response. There’s a potential in everyone to have that compassion. Try to keep compassion and be helpful to people. Have a positive outlook in life. That’s my thing. My personal motto is: Don’t worry, be happy, feel good. It works, you know. [Larry pauses, as his granddaughter suddenly enters the room.] Wow! My granddaughter’s here! I haven’t seen her in six months! I have five granddaughters. She’s the oldest.
What a big coincidence that she shows up right as we ask about your grandkids! Yeah, and she’s coming over to give me a kiss right now!
Can we ask her what she thinks the most important thing that her granddad has taught her? [Larry now speaks to his granddaughter.] Ok, I’m having an interview here on the phone. What do you think the most important thing is that your grandfather has taught you? [His granddaughter answers, “Don’t worry, be happy, feel good!”]
That’s awesome! Larry, what is your general attitude toward life these days? Be as compassionate as you can. Try to help your brothers and sisters. As you get older, people get cranky. Trying to keep a sense of humor is the most important thing I think you can do. Also remember…Don’t worry, be happy, feel good and pass it on!
When you reflect on your life, what are some of the “happiest” moments? Getting married to a wonderful woman…Having kids was wonderful. Having grandchildren is pretty good too. You can be a grandfather and not have to be the bad guy. You can just let them have fun. Solar power makes me happy. It makes me happy to see people that I can make happy.
What do you see in the faces of random people in public who notice you? Recognition. You know, for such a bastard, J.R.’s loved by a lot of people. Well, they loved to hate him. A lot of men want to be him. A lot of women want to get a hold of him and change him of course.
For more information on Larry and Dallas: The Next Generation visit: larryhagman.com