Hagman dies at 81

Longtime Malibu resident and actor Larry Hagman, best known for portraying oil tycoon J.R. Ewing on the hit television show “Dallas,” died Friday at the age of 81. During a career spanning more than half a century, he appeared in around 80 TV shows, 20 movies and a number of stage productions.

Thought of for years as the unofficial mayor of Malibu, Hagman was a fixture in the community. He was known for leading spontaneous parades while wearing costumes and flying flags on the beach outside his home. He would also observe “silent Sundays,” during which he would not speak.

“My behavior earned me the nickname the Mad Monk of Malibu,” Hagman wrote in his 2001 autobiography “Hello Darlin’.” “Living up to it came naturally.”

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Another memorable habit of Hagman’s was his presence at the annual Malibu Chili Cook-Off. For years, he would go around and talk with all the cooks before going home to “get a funny looking hat” and then return to help judge, cook-off historian Ormly Gumfudgin told The Malibu Times in 2006. Throughout the years, he was described by locals as a generous, warm and talented member of the community. 

Hagman was born on Sept. 21, 1931 in Fort Worth, Texas. He was the son of attorney Ben Hagman and actress Mary Martin, who gave birth to him when she was 17 years old. His parents divorced a few years later and he was primarily raised by his grandmother. Growing up, he attended boarding schools before studying theatre arts at Bard College in New York, dropping out after a year. He also spent four years in the U.S. Air Force.

In the early 1950s, Hagman decided to try his hand at acting. He appeared in a performance of “The Taming of the Shrew” in New York City before moving to England to join a production of “South Pacific” that featured his mother.

While abroad, Hagman met Swedish clothing designer Maj Axelsson, and the two were married in 1954.

Hagman landed his first well-known acting role in 1965, playing Anthony Nelson on “I Dream of Jeannie,” which ran until 1970.

In 1978, “Dallas” premiered, with Hagman in the role of J.R. Ewing, the scheming patriarch of the wealthy Texas family. The show ran for 14 seasons until 1991. Hagman returned to his famed role when a “Dallas” reboot premiered in June on TNT.

Hagman had battled a number of health issues. Problems with alcohol led to cirrhosis of the liver, resulting in a liver transplant in 1995. Last year, Hagman announced that he had been diagnosed with throat cancer. He died of complications from the disease at a hospital in Dallas on Friday.

“Larry’s family and close friends had joined him in Dallas for the Thanksgiving holiday,” Hagman’s family said in a statement to the Dallas Morning News. “When he passed, he was surrounded by loved ones. It was a peaceful passing, just as he had wished for.”

Hagman is survived by his wife, Maj; his daughter, Heidi; and his son, Preston.

“If we could turn back the clock, we on the Colony beach might see him parading with towels improvised as flags…or out in full regalia, with a finger to his lips signifying a day of silence,” Hagman’s neighbors wrote in an email to The Malibu Times.

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The Malibu Times is the first newspaper in Malibu, serving the community since 1946.

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