Larry Hagman’s Greatest Hits (Photos)

From his iconic run on ‘Dallas’ to the horror movie he directed, a brief look at Larry Hagman's career.

CBS Photo Archive via Getty Images ; AP Photo ; NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images ; Everett Collection

CBS Photo Archive via Getty Images ; AP Photo ; NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images ; Everett Collection

Actor Larry Hagman, best known as the dastardly J.R. Ewing on Dallas, died on Friday at the age of 81. From his long run on the nighttime soap to the horror movie he directed, a brief look at Hagman’s many accomplishments—and why we’ll miss him so much.

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‘Harbormaster,’ 1957–58

The son of a Broadway and film actress, Hagman already had an impressive stage career by the age of 26, when he had his first stint as a guest star on the short-lived television adventure-drama Harbormaster. Although the boats-and-burglars thriller series lasted only a single season, it launched Hagman into his long career in television.

CBS / Landov

‘The Edge of Night,’ 1961–63

Hagman’s soap-opera career began in earnest with The Edge of Night, a long-running daytime series that combined mystery with soap opera. But don’t laugh—the show, along with fellow soap As the World Turns, revolutionized television by being one of the first daytime shows to last a full half-hour. Hagman joined the show as intrepid detective Ed Gibson five years into its run. He solved mysteries and broke hearts for two years.

Everett Collection

‘Ensign Pulver,’ 1964

After getting a taste of soap-opera fame, Hagman briefly left the world of television for the movies. But his first film role was not one with any kind of cachet. The tale of a self-serving Casanova, Ensign Pulver was a nine-years-late sequel to 1955’s Mister Roberts. Although Hagman didn’t star as the titular self-serving Casanova, he did share billing with a young Jack Nicholson as a crewman on the aptly named USS Reluctant.    

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‘I Dream of Jeannie’, 1965–70

Hagman returned to television to make the first big splash of his career. Tony Nelson was the role of every boy’s dreams: an astronaut in possession of a genie (in the form of a beautiful young woman, of course) who gladly did anything he wished. Although the television classic is now seen as obviously problematic by feminists, one thing is indisputable: dreaming of Jeannie was a lifesaver for Hagman.

‘Beware! The Blob’, 1972

Hagman’s one and only film directing credit, Beware! The Blob (reissued after his Dallas fame with the tagline, “The Film That J.R. Shot!”) was a sequel to the horror classic The Blob. Unfortunately, Hagman’s addition did not enter the horror canon, and for good reason: the movie was largely improvised and Hagman’s only directing experience came from three episodes of Jeannie. It has only a 30 percent audience rating on Rotten Tomatoes. Ouch.

Lorimar Film Entertainment / Everett Collection

‘Dallas’, 1978–91

A few years later, Hagman landed back on his feet with what would become his defining role. As oil baron J.R. Ewing on the primetime soap opera Dallas, Hagman got to play the bad guy. Hagman schemed, plotted, played dirty, and generally chewed his way through scenery for all 14 seasons of the show and stands as the only actor to appear in all 357 episodes. Not bad for someone whose first show lasted only one season.

Lorimar Television / Everett Collection

Who shot J.R.? 1980

It was the television episode that sparked a pop-culture phenomenon. In the last scene of the finale of the 1979–80 season, Hagman’s character J.R. Ewing was shot twice by an unknown assailant, and the mystery wouldn’t be resolved for eight months. The show’s resulting advertising catchphrase, “Who shot J.R.?” was instantly everywhere, from T-shirts to Republican campaign buttons (“A Democrat shot J.R.”). A session of the Turkish Parliament was even suspended to give M.P.s time to get home to catch the show the night the mystery was solved.

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‘Knots Landing,’ 1980–82

J.R. became such a phenomenon that he couldn’t be contained in Dallas. In the early 1980s, Hagman’s Dallas character showed up in several episodes of the spinoff Knots Landing. The show was about the family of J.R.’s black-sheep younger brother, who would occasionally grapple with his notorious kin—or have to be saved by him. J.R. was also featured in two made-for-television movies, J.R. Returns and War of the Ewings. But even then, viewers could never get enough.

Martin Schoeller, TNT / AP Photo

‘Dallas,’ 2012

Although Hagman did other work between the finale of the first run of Dallas and its 2012 TNT revival, his best-known role also became his last. The reboot, which is a continuation of the old series (but disregards the two TV movies), revolves around J.R.’s son. But everyone’s favorite patriarch is far from a minor character, and Hagman spent his time on the new show pulling all of J.R.’s old tricks, conniving his way back into power in the family business. He died during production of the second season. We doubt the Ewings will ever be the same.