The god­fa­ther of Tony So­prano

SundayXtra - - NEWS CANADA I WORLD - By Robert Lloyd

LOS AN­GE­LES — Larry Hag­man, who as J. R. Ewing was fa­mously shot but sur­vived to fin­ish 14 sea­sons and 357 episodes of Dal­las and who rose again to lie and scheme in this year’s suc­cess­ful re­vival, died Fri­day in Dal­las, just down I- 30 from Fort Worth, where he was born 81 years ago.

The son of mu­si­cal- com­edy star Mary Martin, Hag­man worked on the New York stage through the 1950s, on and off- Broad­way, then moved into movie and TV roles. But it was as the star of I Dream of Jean­nie that he first be­came widely known, a good- look­ing, easy­go­ing, dark- haired lead­ing man in the mold of con­tem­po­raries like Jim Hut­ton and James Gar­ner.

A knock­off Be­witched in which Hag­man played Maj. An­thony Nel­son, a bach­e­lor as­tro­naut more or less co­hab­it­ing with cur­va­ceous fe­male ge­nie Bar­bara Eden, who called him “Master,” the se­ries, which was risque in a way about to be­come out­dated, ran from 1965 to 1970 — its end, one might note, con­cur­rent with the rise of the women’s move­ment. But Hag­man’s easy­go­ing ap­proach made its weird power re­la­tion­ships palat­able.

And then there was J. R. I can’t swear, with­out spend­ing some time in a li­brary, that he was tele­vi­sion’s first an­ti­hero. Ralph Kram­den might be, viewed from a cer­tain an­gle, and day­time soap op­eras, of which Hag­man was a veteran and Dal­las a prime- time vari­ant, were full of characters You Loved to Hate ( yet really loved). But J. R. was the god­fa­ther, cer­tainly, of Tony So­prano and Wal­ter White, of Nucky Thompson and Al Swearen­gen — and their bet­ter, one feels.

Although Hag­man’s two great roles — the sit­com hero, the melo­dra­matic vil­lain — would seem re­mote, both de­pended on a na­tive boy­ish­ness that kept him lik­able in sit­u­a­tions that might oth­er­wise have turned sour. What made J. R. at­trac­tive, af­ter all, was not that he was a win­ner, al­beit an un­scrupu­lous one. What made him de­light­ful was his ca­pac­ity for de­light. He treated life as a game.

Mytho­log­i­cally speak­ing, he was a “trick­ster,” a cousin to Bre’r Rab­bit, to Coy­ote and Loki: the beloved trou­ble­maker the cul­ture re­quires to keep things in bal­ance.

The 2012 Dal­las, whose sec­ond sea­son was in pro­duc­tion when Hag­man died, may have pushed a young gen­er­a­tion of Ewings to the fore, but it still de­pended largely on Hag­man’s sense of fun, on a wide smile and twin­kling eye as vi­brant at 80 as ever. Think­ing of J. R., we reach for terms not of dis­ap­proval, but of af­fec­tion: ras­cal, rap­scal­lion. His charm was puck­ish.

If the ac­tor was tech­ni­cally too old to be even an old hip­pie, he was a bit of one, any­way. He bathed in the Esalen hot springs with Alan Watts. He lived for many years on the beach in Mal­ibu, where a flag read­ing “Vita cel­e­bra­tio est” ( Life is a cel­e­bra­tion) flew at his house, and later in the arty climes of Ojai. He was a mem­ber of Cal­i­for­nia’s Peace and Free­dom Party and an ad­vo­cate for so­lar power.

Hag­man had a long, bad his­tory with al­co­hol and nico­tine, the drugs of his gen­er­a­tion. ( He had a liver trans­plant in 1995, and it was throat can­cer that killed him.) He quit both but re­mained a devo­tee — that seems to be the apt word — of mar­i­juana, to which Jack Ni­chol­son in­tro­duced him, think­ing it might help cut down on his drink­ing. ( Char­ac­ter­is­ti­cally, that vice tended to­ward cham­pagne.) And he wrote and spoke glow­ingly of his ex­pe­ri­ence with LSD, which, he said, opened him to “the one­ness of the uni­verse” and rid him — I am glad to think to­day — of any fear of death.

— Los An­ge­les Times

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