Hagman, a bad guy on TV, is recalled as a good one off it

Posted 11:29pm on Saturday, Nov. 24, 2012

Fond memories of one of television's most beloved villains -- Larry Hagman of J.R. Ewing fame on Dallas -- continued to pour in Saturday, including some from the actor's high school boxing coach from Weatherford.

Jim Wright, who went into politics and ultimately became speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, said he vividly remembers the days when he was Hagman's "unpaid Golden Gloves coach."

"I remember when he was a young fellow, just trying to get started," Wright told the Star-Telegram on Saturday. "He was a wonderful young man, always wanted to please his father. He would do just about anything you suggested."

Hagman, who returned as J.R. in a new edition of Dallas this year, had a long history of health problems and died Friday due to complications from his battle with cancer, his family said.

The 81-year-old actor was surrounded by friends and family at Medical City Dallas Hospital before he passed peacefully, "just as he'd wished for," according to a statement from his family to The Associated Press.

Linda Gray, his on-screen wife and later ex-wife in the original series and the sequel, was among those with Hagman in his final moments in a Dallas hospital.

Wright remembered Hagman as both a fun-loving jokester and someone who took a firm stand on issues he believed in, most notably a long-held battle against smoking, which the actor waged "long before that was popular."

Recalled Wright: "He would come to Washington on occasion and we would have lunch. He was a lot of fun."

He said Hagman "carried a fan in his pocket, and if anyone lit up a cigarette in the restaurant, he would pull out the fan and point it at them. No one ever got mad at him."

Wright said Hagman was "a well-appreciated personality in our town. He's a remarkable, fascinating and interesting person ... and was a good friend."

Local arts supporter Betty Bob Buckley, mother of Fort Worth's Tony-winning Broadway star Betty Buckley, said her memories of Hagman go way back, and he will be greatly missed.

"Larry came to Casa Manana just a few years ago. He had a book out then," Buckley said. "He was just like your friend next door."

Buckley said she loved Hagman and his TV shows.

Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings said Saturday morning in a statement that Hagman's role as J.R. helped the city gain "worldwide recognition."

"Larry is a North Texas jewel that was larger than life, and he will be missed by many in Dallas and around the world," Rawlings said.

The Fort Worth native was the son of singer-actress Mary Martin, who starred in such classics as South Pacific and Peter Pan. Martin was still in her teens when he was born in 1931 during her marriage to attorney Ben Hagman.

As a youngster, Hagman gained a reputation for mischief-making as he was bumped from one private school to another. He made a stab at New York theater in the early 1950s, then served in the Air Force from 1952 to 1956 in England.

While there, he met and married young Swedish designer Maj Axelsson. The couple had two children, Preston and Heidi, and were longtime residents of the Malibu beach colony that is home to many celebrities.

Favorite memories and condolences were shared in abundance on social media websites after Larry Hagman's fans and friends learned of his death.

A tweet from cyclist Lance Armstrong said, "Sad to hear about the passing of Larry Hagman. I grew up just miles from the ol' South Fork Ranch. Lots of rides out that way."

Television and radio host Larry King said Hagman "was a very special man -- he helped me quit smoking & I'll always be grateful."

Also, tourists and locals alike flocked to Southfork Ranch outside Dallas on Saturday, bringing flowers in memory of Hagman.

This report contains material from The Associated Press.

Susan McFarland, 817-431-2231

Twitter: @susanmcfarland1


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