DALLAS – Larry Hagman, the actor most widely known for playing oil baron J.R. Ewing on the popular 1980s television show “Dallas,” has died at the age of 81.
Family members tell the Associated Press the Texas native died Friday afternoon at a Dallas hospital from complications of a recent battle with cancer.
"Larry was back in his beloved hometown of Dallas, re-enacting the iconic role he loved the most," the family said. "Larry's family and closest friends had joined him in Dallas for the Thanksgiving holiday."
Hagman was a regular on the 1960s sitcom “I Dream of Jeannie,” playing Capt. Tony Nelson, an astronaut whose life is disrupted when he finds a comely genie, portrayed by Barbara Eden. He reprised the role of J.R. Ewing in TNT's recent "Dallas" reboot.
The actor's "Dallas" co-star Linda Gray issued the following statement to Fox News via her publicist: "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. I will miss him enormously. He was an original and lived life to the full. The world was a brighter place because of him."
Hagman also starred in two short-lived sitcoms, "The Good Life" (NBC, 1971-72) and "Here We Go Again" (ABC, 1973). His film work included well-regarded performances in "The Group," `'Harry and Tonto" and "Primary Colors."
But it was Hagman's masterful portrayal of the charmingly loathsome J.R. that brought him his greatest stardom. The CBS serial drama about the Ewing clan and those in their orbit aired from April 1978 to May 1991.
The "Who shot J.R.?" story twist, in which Hagman's character was nearly murdered in a cliffhanger episode, fueled international speculation and millions of dollars in betting-parlour wagers. It also helped give the series a ratings record for the time.
When the answer was revealed in a November 1980 episode, an average 41 million viewers tuned in to make "Dallas" the second most-watched entertainment show of all time, trailing only the "MASH" finale in 1983 with 50 million viewers.
It was J.R.'s sister-in-law, Kristin (Mary Crosby) who plugged him -- he had made her pregnant, then threatened to frame her as a prostitute unless she left town -- but others had equal motivation.
Hagman played Ewing as a bottomless well of corruption with a charming grin: a business cheat and a faithless husband who tried to get his alcoholic wife, Sue Ellen (Linda Gray), institutionalized.
"I know what I want on J.R.'s tombstone," Hagman said in 1988. "It should say: `Here lies upright citizen J.R. Ewing. This is the only deal he ever lost."'
In 2006, Hagman did a guest shot on FX's drama series "Nip/Tuck," playing a macho business mogul. He also got new exposure in recent years with the DVD releases of "I Dream of Jeannie" and "Dallas."
The Fort Worth, Texas, native was the son of singer-actress Mary Martin, who starred in such classics as "South Pacific" and "Peter Pan." Martin was still in her teens when he was born in 1931 during her marriage to attorney Ben Hagman.
As a youngster, Hagman gained a reputation for mischief-making as he was bumped from one private school to another. He made a stab at New York theater in the early 1950s, then served in the Air Force from 1952-56 in England.
While there, he met and married young Swedish designer Maj Axelsson. The couple had two children, Preston and Heidi, and were longtime residents of the Malibu beach colony that is home to many celebrities.
Hagman returned to acting and found work in the theater and in such TV series as "The U.S. Steel Hour," `'The Defenders" and "Sea Hunt." His first continuing role was as lawyer Ed Gibson on the daytime serial "The Edge of Night" (1961-63).
He was diagnosed in 1992 with cirrhosis of the liver and acknowledged that he had drank heavily for years. In 1995, a malignant tumor was discovered on his liver and he underwent a transplant.
Hagman called his 2001 memoir "Hello Darlin': Tall (and Absolutely True) Tales about My Life."
"I didn't put anything in that I thought was going to hurt someone or compromise them in any way," he told The Associated Press at the time.
After his transplant, he became an advocate for organ donation and volunteered at a hospital to help frightened patients.
"I counsel, encourage, meet them when they come in for their operations, and after," he said in 1996. "I try to offer some solace, like `Don't be afraid, it will be a little uncomfortable for a brief time, but you'll be OK.' "
He also was an anti-smoking activist who took part in "Great American Smoke-Out" campaigns.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.