Close to the end: Larry Hagman’s last hurrah

Larry Hagman in one of his final episodes of “Dallas,” just a few weeks before his death. (Photo: TNT)

Larry Hagman in one of his final episodes of “Dallas,” just a few weeks before his death. (Photo: TNT)

WHAT YOU’LL SEE IF YOU WATCH ‘DALLAS’ JAN. 28

By ADAM BUCKMAN

Larry Hagman must have had strength and courage to spare because, except for looking a little thin, you would not otherwise think he was close to death when you watch the upcoming first episodes of his final season on “Dallas.”

Sure, he looks elderly (he was 81) in the two episodes TNT sent out for preview.  But, we know now, he was also terminally ill, and would die of cancer just five weeks after shooting the second of those two episodes.  He died in Dallas on Nov. 23, midway into the shooting of the sixth episode of the upcoming second season.

The season starts on Monday, Jan. 28, with two back-to-back episodes starting at 9 p.m. eastern.  In the episodes, Hagman — as J.R. Ewing — has considerably more to do in the second one than the first.

To be precise, I tallied just two scenes with J.R. (plus one quick glimpse) in the first episode, titled “Battle Lines.”  But he figured in seven scenes in Episode 2, titled “Venomous Creatures.”  Filming on the second episode wrapped on Oct. 15, five weeks before his death.  In those five weeks, he participated in the filming of three additional episodes and at least part of a fourth.  (His final shooting date, before his illness prevented him from continuing, has not been disclosed.)

In both of the episodes I watched the other day, J.R. is positioned as a kind of  mentor for the just-as-devious John Ross — his son played by Josh Henderson.  In Episode One, J.R. turns up to deliver a couple of pointed, but throwaway lines — one about snakes, and the other an off-color comment about how much fun it used to be to chase pretty secretaries around the office.

In Episode Two, the “Dallas” writers not only gave him more to do, but more to say, including lines that are so colorful they border on ludicrous (or march resolutely across that border).  “Love, hate, jealousy — mix ‘em up [and] they make a mean martini!” he hisses, in one of his conversations with John Ross, as the two plot an underhanded takeover of the Ewing family business.  “And when we take over Ewing Energies, you’ll slake your thirst – with a twist!” J.R. adds, for good measure.

In another conversation with John Ross, J.R. notes his son’s anger with a former love, Elena (Jordana Brewster), who’s now married to John Ross’ cousin and rival, Chris Ewing (Jesse Metcalfe).   “She really did a number on you, didn’t she?” J.R. says to John Ross.  “Carved your heart out with a spoon, then licked it clean!” J.R. added (though his point was already made).

In retrospect, though, the lines were probably fun for Hagman to recite.  And if he was feeling any physical pain, or if he knew he would soon die and these scenes would be among his last, there’s no evidence of that in his performance.

He filmed these scenes (and the ones to come) so close to his death that you might say Larry Hagman died doing what he loved best — playing J.R. Ewing literally to the very end.

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