Legal liquor nearly killed him but illegal LSD “took the fear of death from me.” Pot and peyote buttons were therapeutic high points, too.
Now he’s surviving on a mandatory daily diet of 29 prescription pills. Meet Larry Hagman—all over again.
The man who played J.R. Ewing has a revelatory new autobiography out titled “Hello Darlin’: Tall (and Absolutely True) Tales About My Life.” It duly talks about “Dallas” and “I Dream of Jeannie.” Those are the easy parts. A life story is more than actors and their roles, though.
He had a challenging relationship with his father, attorney Ben Hagman, described as a “two-fisted, drinking, good old Texas boy.” And he loathed his stepfather, Richard Halliday, whom Hagman blames for driving a wedge between him and his mother, famed Broadway singer Mary Martin.
“The anecdotes were not hard to come up with,” Hagman says. “But I found I was spending too much time on my stepfather . . . So I edited a lot of that stuff out. I didn’t realize I resented him as much as I did. We both had alcohol problems but I was never obstreperous or cruel in any way. He was.”
No More Toupee
Hagman turned 70 on Sept. 21, courtesy of a 1995 liver transplant that saved his life. He’s trimmer than he was in his “Dallas” days and has shucked the silver toupee he wore during the show’s 13 seasons. Acting is mostly in his rear view mirror, he says. Hagman and his wife of 47 years, Maj, instead are attuned to charitable causes.
None of this stops him from speaking his mind, particularly on the subject of mind-altering drugs. Hagman’s book details his first LSD trip, courtesy of singer David Crosby.
“You lose your ego,” he says. “It led me into having no fear of death, because you’ve been there, done that, and it ain’t so bad. Matter of fact, it’s wonderful.”
As for marijuana, Hagman definitely inhaled.
“Why that stuff should be illegal is beyond me. It’s so benign compared to alcohol. When you come right down to it, alcohol destroys your body and makes you do violent things. With grass you sit back and enjoy life. I don’t smoke dope anymore. I’m in the 12-step program so I can’t do any of that. Anyhow, that’s my take on it. People say, ‘Well, you shouldn’t talk like that. They’ll nail you.’ What do I care? I’m not carrying, I don’t use. What are they going to nail me for—talking too much?”
Leaving Films In A Blink
Hagman regrets his heavy-drinking days—”That was the manly thing to do when I was growing up” – but not his career choices. In his first significant feature film role, 1964’s “Fail-Safe,” he played a Russian interpreter opposite Henry Fonda as the president of the United States. But in 1965, a potentially serious movie career gave way to TV’s “I Dream of Jeannie.”
“I took whatever came along. I was glad to work. I had a family to support,” Hagman recalls. “I wasn’t managing my career, and nobody else was either. But I’ve done pretty well. I’m probably the most famous actor in the world. I mean, really. And I’ve made a ton of money.”
In the last years of “Dallas,” which CBS canceled in 1991, Hagman made $250,000 an episode. A decade later, the six stars of NBC’s “Friends” each make $750,000 a show.
“Dallas” was mostly overlooked at Emmy time, with Hagman nominated just twice for his signature portrayal of J.R. “Was I? I didn’t pay any attention to it,” he says. “I don’t watch awards shows. I’m so embarrassed to see the people sitting there waiting to win, picking their noses.”
Surely, though, the TV Hall of Fame someday will make room for Hagman.
“I don’t care,” he says emphatically. “I don’t like accolades. I can’t handle ’em. I like the money in the bank.”