24/11/2012 04:26 | By Lorna Cooper, editor, MSN TV

Larry Hagman, Dallas' JR Ewing, dies aged 81

Larry Hagman, famous worldwide for his role as Dallas' legendary villain JR Ewing, has died at the age of 81.

Larry Hagman in Dallas (© Larry Hagman in Dallas. Image. Channel 5)

Larry Hagman, a TV legend for his role as amoral villain JR Ewing, has died at the age of 81 after losing a battle with cancer.

Dallas co-stars Linda Gray and Patrick Duffy - who played wife Sue Ellen and younger brother Bobby - were at his bedside in a Dallas hospital.

In a statement released by her agent, Linda Gray said: ""Larry Hagman was my best friend for 35 years. He was the Pied Piper of life and brought joy to everyone he knew. He was creative, generous, funny, loving and talented and I will miss him enormously. He was an original and lived life to the full."

Larry Hagman: before Dallas

Born in Texas in 1931 to Broadway star Mary Martin, Larry was drawn to drama classes as a young boy. Splitting his youth between Texas and his grandmother's home in California, he was drafted into the United States Air Force and stationed in the UK.

After leaving the Air Force in 1956, Larry returned to New York City, appearing in a series of plays off-Broadway. That same year, he made his television debut in crime drama series, Decoy.

Nine more years of theatre and small TV appearances followed until Larry Hagman struck gold in 1965; he was cast as hapless astronaut Major Anthony Nelson in I Dream of Jeannie.

Larry Hagman and Barbara Eden in I Dream of Jeannie (© Larry Hagman and Barbara Eden in I Dream of Jeannie. Image. Rex)

The hit sitcom, which starred Barbara Eden as the mischievous genie named Jeannie, ran for five seasons.

After appearing in numerous TV series (including The Rockford Files) and movies (such as Richard Donner's Superman), Larry landed the role that has made him a household name, an icon and a TV legend the world over: Dallas' JR Ewing.

Larry Hagman's Dallas years: who shot JR?

Dallas began inauspiciously in 1978. Originally conceived to revolve around Bobby Ewing's marriage to Pamela Barnes (played by Victoria Principal), it was Hagman's scheming, amoral, womanising, unprincipled JR - the man everyone loved to hate - who quickly became the focus of the show.

The oil baron's list of enemies grew and at the end of the second season, an unseen assailant attempted to murder him. There was just one question on everyone's lips; who shot JR?

Throughout the summer of 1980, the world waited to discover the answer; the episode reveal, watched by 54 million Americans and an estimated 350 million fans worldwide, unveiled JR's sister-in-law Kristin Shepard as the shooter.

For his performance in Dallas, Larry was nominated for two Emmy Awards and four Golden Globes. He also produced and directed several episodes.

After the original series ended, Larry went on to reprise his role in reunion TV movies Dallas: J.R. Returns (1996) and Dallas: War of the Ewings (1998), which he executive produced.

Larry Hagman's life with Dallas

After Dallas, Larry spent more time with his family; Swedish-born wife Maj Axelsson (whom he'd married in 1954) daughter Heidi Kristina and son Preston. In addition to his love for motorcycles, Larry enjoyed collecting hats and flags.

A heavy drinker for a good deal of his career, Larry openly admitted to alcohol problems (he had often started his day on the classic series of Dallas with a bottle of Champagne). His alcoholism led to a liver transplant in 1995. His health problems were not over; in 2011, he was diagnosed with cancer.

However, Larry continued to act - popping up in movies (including Primary Colors with John Travolta, JFK with Kevin Costner and Anthony Hopkins' Nixon) and taking several recurring roles in popular TV series (such as dramas Nip/Tuck and Desperate Housewives). He even voiced a character in an episode of The Simpsons.

But Larry Hagman's spiritual home remained the grand old daddy of primetime US soap; Dallas. In 2007 he appeared in the Dallas episode of Justin Lee Collins' Bring Back... series.

Four years later, US cable channel TNT confirmed plans to revamp Dallas for a new generation; here in the UK, Channel 5 snapped up the rights.

In the new series, the rivalry between brothers JR and Bobby remains a key storyline, but it has also moved down to their sons played by Josh Henderson and Jesse Metcalfe.

As with the original series, Dallas 2012 was enriched by the presence of Larry Hagman; he walked away with the first season thanks to lines like: "Blood may be thicker than water, but oil is thicker than both."

It's difficult to imagine the series continuing without him; Larry Hagman was Dallas and Dallas was Larry Hagman.

Larry Martin Hagman (September 21, 1931 - November 23, 2012)

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