Larry Hagman, 'Dallas' Star, Dead at 81

He played evil oil baron J.R. Ewing.

ByABC News
November 23, 2012, 11:11 PM

Nov. 24, 2012— -- Larry Hagman, who emerged in the 1960s as the slightly befuddled astronaut in "I Dream of Jeannie," then became a major star in the 1980s primetime soap "Dallas," playing evil oil baron J.R. Ewing, has died. He was 81.

Hagman's cause of death was due to complications related to his battle with cancer according to his family.

Linda Gray, who played Hagman's on-screen wife on "Dallas" was at the actor's bedside when he died.

"He brought joy to everyone he knew. He was creative, generous, funny, loving and talented, and I will miss him enormously. He was an original and lived life to the fullest," Gray said in a statement released through her publicist.

PHOTOS: Larry Hagman Through The Years

Warner Bros."Dallas" executive producers Cynthia Cidre and Michael M. Robin, and the show's cast and crew released the following statement today: "Larry Hagman was a giant, a larger-than-life personality whose iconic performance as J.R. Ewing will endure as one of the most indelible in entertainment history. He truly loved portraying this globally recognized character, and he leaves a legacy of entertainment, generosity and grace. Everyone at Warner Bros. and in the "Dallas" family is deeply saddened by Larry's passing, and our thoughts are with his family and dear friends during this difficult time."

Hagman inherited the acting gene from his mother, Broadway musical legend Mary Martin. He'd had roles in television programs 20 years prior to "Dallas," including "I Dream of Jeannie" from 1965-70.

"Dallas," which debuted in 1978 on CBS and had an astonishing 13-year run, centered on the Ewings, a family of Texas oil barons who had money, cattle, and more scandals and power struggles than the Kardashians.

The original strategy behind "Dallas" was to focus on the newly-married Bobby and Pam Ewing. But Hagman made his role more than the producers had intended, and he quickly became the focus of the program.

When TNT revived the program earlier this year, he was the undisputed power villain.

"All of us at TNT are deeply saddened at the news of Larry Hagman's passing. He was a wonderful human being and an extremely gifted actor," TNT officials said in a statement. "We will be forever thankful that a whole new generation of people got to know and appreciate Larry through his performance as J.R. Ewing. Our thoughts and prayers are with his family at this very difficult time.

VIEW: "Dallas" Then and Now

But though he may be best known as a villain, Hagman used his fame to try to give back.

In addition to actively supporting charities like the National Kidney Foundation and, in what might seem an irony, efforts to develop solar power, Hagman just last month announced the formation The Larry Hagman Foundation, to fund education programs promoting the fine arts and creative learning opportunities for economically disadvantaged children in Dallas.

Hagman began his acting career in the late 1950s, but it wasn't until "I Dream of Jeannie" premiered in 1965 that he found himself a star. He played Anthony Nelson, an astronaut who during a mission finds an unusual bottle, and when he opens it, out pops a genie named Jeannie -- Barbara Eden.

Eden wrote on her Facebook page that Hagman was "the center of so many fun, wild, shocking… and in retrospect, memorable moments" that would remain in her heart forever.

"He was such a key element in my life for so long and even, years after I Dream of Jeannie; our paths crossed many times. Throughout various productions I had the pleasure of watching the Texas Tornado that was Larry Hagman," Eded wrote. "Amidst a whirlwind of big laughs, big smiles and unrestrained personality Larry was always, simply Larry. You couldn't fault him for it, it was just who he was."

Through the series' five-year run, Jeannie found new ways to make Hagman's life difficult, as she tried to serve her "master."

Though Hagman continued to work regularly after "I Dream of Jeannie" ended in 1970, it wasn't until "Dallas" hit the air in 1978, that he again struck a chord with audiences.

The show was originally only supposed to be a five-episode miniseries, but the show caught on so quickly, that it was extended and eventually became a series that would become the highest rated TV show of all time.

Unlike many TV stars, who find themselves playing variations on the same character over and over, the Hagman viewers saw in J.R. Ewing was worlds away from Major Nelson.

While the astronaut was always at wits end, trying to keep Jeannie a secret and trying to prove to the base psychiatrist that he was sane, Ewing was a man who seemed completely in control of his world, wheeling and dealing, backstabbing and cheating on his wife.

PHOTOS: Notable Deaths in 2012

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