By Heather Mullinix
Picture the funeral for the J.R. Ewing, the best bad guy on television, and you likely envision a lot of people showing up just to make sure the man is actually dead. Perhaps the family sheds a few tears, but you have to wonder if anyone other than Miss Ellie would be really sorry to see him go. I imagine Bobby would be sad, because that's how Bobby is, but mostly he'd be relieved he could finally stop trying to fight his brother or fix whatever mess J.R. cooked up this time around.
But most importantly, if he had been killed during the original run of the iconic show, would Dallas have been able to carry on for 14 seasons?
Doubtful, though the writers certainly liked to tease its viewers, with J.R. escaping multiple brushes with death during season ending cliffhanger after cliffhanger. From "Who Shot J.R.?" in the third season to season six's attempt to burn him up with Southfork, to the series finale when we are led to believe J.R. has killed himself, actor Larry Hagman and the Dallas writers knew how to keep us all coming back for more.
Larry Hagman, 81, who brought not only J.R. Ewing to life on the small screen, but also Col. Nelson in "I Dream of Jeannie," passed away Friday following complications from throat cancer. He was surrounded by family and friends, according to a press release, and found a peaceful ending that his character would never deserve.
I've been a fan of J.R. for as long as I can remember. The series began in 1978, when I was but a baby, but I suppose the parents got hooked because I can't remember a Friday night when we didn't sit down to watch the latest installment of excess and backstabbing business. It was our family TV time long before they came up with TGIF on ABC. And let's all be honest — a scheming J.R. is much more entertaining than baby Olsen twins, John Stamos and Kirk Cameron's little sister.
From "Who Shot J.R.?" to Bobby returning from the dead after the "dream season," I watched them all. You could always count on Hagman to have some crazy plan up his sleeve to make Ewing Oil more powerful and to leave his enemies wondering just how he managed to win with all the cards stacked against him.
J.R. was known for his quips, including some sound advice, such as, "Anything worth having is worth going for all the way;" "If you can't get in the front door, just go around to the back;" "Contracts were made to be broken, honey, but a handshake is the law of God;" "You can't cross a bridge until it's built;" and, "Always keep your friends close, but your enemies closer."
Hagman must have been responsible for more than a few of those famous quotes. When the series first began as a miniseries, J.R. was just supposed to be a supporting character in a show that was more interested in building on the Romeo and Juliet theme with Bobby's marriage to Pamela Barnes. Hagman, however, found a way to the spotlight, ad-libbing lines and building a character that could not be ignored.
Hagman later said his approach to life was the same as his approach to acting: "Be as outrageous as you possibly can." That's evidenced by his cast of characters through the years and from his eccentric behavior that included leading impromptu parades down the beach near his home in Malibu.
Linda Gray, whose character Sue Ellen had a ... complicated relationship with J.R., was among his closets friends. She said, "He 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 fullest."
Perhaps that's why he was able to play bad so well. He knew good. He was good. Later in life, he championed alternative energy, anti-smoking campaigns and organ donation — the last two near and dear to his heart, or perhaps liver, as he had a liver transplant in 1995 that allowed him another 17 years to share with his loved ones and his wife of more than 50 years, Maj.
After Dallas went off the air in 1991, my family found new shows to watch, but by that time, the youngsters no longer agreed with the adults on television programming. Dad wanted to watch "Tour of Duty" while my sister and I were trying to get that old antenna to pick up "Married...With Children." But The Nashville Network would bring back that beloved soap in 1996, and my sister and I, both in college at the time, hosted our friends for Dallas viewings every afternoon until we'd gone through the entire series — twice. And while everyone loved Miss Ellie and hated Cliff Barnes, it was J.R. Ewing that had us glued to the screen for all those years.
Hagman had completed filming some episodes for the second season of the re-booted soap, set to return to airwaves in January. The writers have already started working on how to incorporate the sad passing of a television icon into the hip new show. Will the actors be able to pick up the pieces and carry on without him? Only time will tell. I'm hoping this new generation picked up a few tricks from the the oil baron we all loved to hate.
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Heather Mullinix is assistant editor of the Crossville Chronicle. Her column is published on Tuesdays. She may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.