Friday, November 23, 2012

Larry Hagman - Dead At 81

If there was one show that represents the 80s for me it was Dallas. As a kid I loved those prime time soap operas that flourished in a time when people were fascinated by the complicated lives of the rich and famous. Falcon Crest (with Morgan Fairchild - meow), Knots Landing and of course, Dynasty (which me and my University roomie called The Power And The Passion) were very popular shows but nothing reached the level of frenzy like the cliffhanger at the end of Dallas season 2.

Ask anyone who watched TV at that time, "Who Shot J.R.?" and they will know what you are talking about. That question in one of those TV cultural landmarks that come about once in a decade if we are lucky. I remember how frustrating it was to wait until late November (because of a TV writer's strike) to find out the answer. The delay just further fueled the anticipation. At the time, the episode that revealed the shooter (Jr's mistress played by Mary Crosby) was seen by 83 million people - a 76 % share of the audience. Not even the Super Bowl has ever gotten those kind of numbers. Up to that time it was the most watched show in TV history.

You have to remember that there was no Internet posting spoilers in those days and you couldn't just go download the episodes. You had to commit to the show every week or wait until summer to catch up and watch the series re-runs. The people who knew the secret TOLD NO ONE. That kind of stunt would never work today. Some asshole would have posted the truth and ruined the fun for all of us.

Hagman himself didn't know if he was coming back or if his character had been killed off. He was in contract negotiation with the CBS network so they could have went either way, depending on the deal they could make with Hagman. Wisely they paid him the money he wanted (100,000 dollars per episode) and reaped great rewards from the show, especially in syndication.

It was because of JR's bigger than life personality that most everyone on the show had motive to kill him and every character was a suspect. Everyone had a theory, even my old Baba, who was the ONLY one in our family to correctly pick the culprit. She knew right from the start that only a woman scorned would try to take out the asshole that Hagman played so well.

I am sure that was the kind of buzz that the Simpsons hoped to replicate a few decades later with their famous "Who Shot Mr Burns" 2 part episode which was in many ways just as fun a mystery to solve. If you try to tell me that you had figured out that Maggie pulled the trigger I will have to call bullshit on you.

During the 1980 United States presidential election, the Republicans distributed campaign buttons that claimed "A Democrat shot J. R.", while Democratic incumbent Jimmy Carter joked that he would have no problem financing his campaign if he knew who shot J. R. When Hagman was offered £100,000 during a British vacation for the identity of the shooter, he admitted that neither he nor anyone in the cast knew the answer  Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother was among the millions worldwide intrigued by the mystery, and a session of the Turkish parliament was suspended to allow legislators a chance to get home in time to view the Dallas episode with the answer.

Hagman played the asshole so well. He was so much fun to hate.

Larry Hagman is a living legend and he gave us the best Villain in TV history. I dont think anyone can top JR EWING. He did it all.. Had his wife committed to a nut house while pregnant mortgaged his parent's ranch for collateral over an oil deal, Over threw a foreign Govt. Slept w/his wife's sister was going to blow up the mid east oil fields to bring crude up in price.


david_b said...

Wow, what a shock.. Yes sir, he was an Original. Will probably watch loads of 'I Dream of Jeanie' episodes as well this weekend as well.

Rest In Peace, Mr Hagman.

Sleep Well, and thank you for entertaining us.

Wings1295 said...

I was so shocked to hear of his death, I thought he was doing well lately.

He is such an iconic part of American/pop culture history. I remember watching Dukes of Hazzard on Fridays and then my grandmother saying "I wonder what JR is up to?", meaning it was time for Dallas.

Loved him on the new Dallas, too. Wonder how they will deal with the loss of JR. Such a blow.


Kal said...

I love me some Jeanie. He had such great reactions to all the shenanigans that Jeanie got him into.

Kal said...

I agree with you Wings. There was a time when celebrity deaths didn't affect me all that much because I didn't have such a strong connection to them. But Hagman was HUGE part of my pop culture life.

Debra She Who Seeks said...

Remember those fad t-shirts that were sold right after that Dallas cliffhanger? "I shot JR" -- I thought they were so funny I almost bought one.

Mike D. said...

Jeanie?! Jeanie?? JEANIE!!!!!

Kal said...

She is never getting out of that bottle now.

Joe Jusko said...

There was even a Las Vegas book taking bets on the shooter. "Who Shot J.R." was a cultural phenomenon in it's day. Great post!