"Like my daddy alway's said, where there's a way, there's a will."
With last week's sad passing of legendary TV actor Larry Hagman, television lost one of its greatest villains of all time in J.R. Ewing of Dallas. Hagman appeared as the iconic character everyone loved to hate from 1978 to 1991, including that incredible "Who Shot J.R.?" episode that stands as one of the best (and perhaps first) cliffhangers to grace the small screen. He returned this past summer to reprise the role in TNT's revival of Dallas, exuding charm, talent and a genuine love for playing the part, even as he likely knew his days were short. He was in the middle of filming the series' second season when he died.
"Revenge is the single most satisfying feeling in the world!"
Larry Hagman was at the centre of two revolutionary concepts on television that had not previously been exploited in quite the same way as it was on Dallas. The aforementioned cliffhanger has set up countless imitators, especially during the 80s and 90s, often leaving a main character in peril. But none have matched that frenzy over the summer of 1980 when everyone demanded to know just who shot J.R. Ewing. Even today on the Dallas revival, cliffhangers are an important device used to reel in viewers week-to-week.
"A conscience is like a boat or a car. If you feel you need one, rent it."
But equally important is Hagman's portrayal of J.R. He didn't just play a bad guy. He played a true villain. Everyone loved to hate J.R. Ewing. He was cool, smart, conniving, egocentric, always plotting ways to destroy his enemies, then plotting ways to destroy his friends and family, never satisified unless he held all the power. Before J.R. Ewing graced television screens in 1978, TV villains were few and far between, but even still, none matched J.R. Hagman's mark on television as the bad guy will stand the test of time, with plenty of imitations, but no duplications. Even at 81 years, when Hagman reprised the iconic role, it was like riding a bike after years away from it: it came back to him effortlessly. He blew away virtually every dastardly antagonist on TV with his trademark hat, southern drawl and evil eyebrows.
"Lots of men have tried to run roughshod over me you can visit them in the cemetery!"
A true villain surprises you in doing the right thing when it seems like doing the right thing isn't in the villain's arsenal. And J.R. was able to do that. And Hagman was able to pull it off as J.R. In the hands of a lesser actor, J.R. wouldn't have the same impact. But sometimes, on the rarest of occasions, an actor or actress gives life to a character in a way no one can explain. Larry Hagman WAS J.R. Ewing. Still is. And that's a testament to Hagman's talents.
"The world is littered with the bodies of people that tried to stick it to ole J.R. Ewing!"
Without J.R. Ewing, where is the modern primetime soap opera? Chuck Bass of Gossip Girl? Victoria Grayson of Revenge? The countless bad guys and gals of Melrose Place, Beverly Hills 90210, The O.C. Without J.R. Ewing, is there a Cigarette Smoking Man on The X-Files? A Benjamin Linus on Lost? Virtually the entire cast of Breaking Bad? I suppose that kind of question is up for debate. But I strongly believe television and television villains wouldn't be the same without J.R. Ewing. Even without being alive for much of Dallas's run and only familiar with the TNT revival, I know his impact on the small screen.
"Don't forgive and never forget; Do unto others before they do unto you; and third and most importantly, keep your eye on your friends, because your enemies will take care of themselves!"
So while Dallas wasn't Hagman's only notable career role (he also starred on I Dream of Jeannie), it does define his career, and I can't imagine he was anything but proud of his accomplishments. Most viewers today have only the vaguest idea who J.R. Ewing is, but it doesn't make Larry Hagman's mark on television any less significant. J.R. may not have been the original villain, but he is one of the most important and certainly one of the most memorable.
"Never tell the truth when a good lie'll do!"
So long, Larry Hagman. You will be missed.