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Associated Press and Forum Communications, Published November 25 2012

Late 'Dallas' star Larry Hagman had odd tie to Grand Forks

When Larry Hagman came to Grand Forks in 2007, he regaled a local crowd with stories about his mother, Broadway musical star Mary Martin; the time Nancy Reagan caught him trying to steal a butter dish from the White House; and a ring made out of some of his gallstones that an artist friend was leaving to the North Dakota Museum of Art in town.

The actor is better known for playing the villainous J.R. Ewing in the nighttime soap opera “Dallas” from 1978 to 1991, and nice-guy Maj. Tony Nelson in the comedy “I Dream of Jeannie” from 1965 to 1970.

Hagman, 81, died Friday due to complications from his battle with cancer, his family said.

He had recently returned to television as J.R. in a new edition of “Dallas” this year.

“Larry was back in his beloved hometown of Dallas, re-enacting the iconic role he loved the most. Larry’s family and closest friends had joined him in Dallas for the Thanksgiving holiday,” the family said in a statement that was provided to The Associated Press by Warner Bros., producer of the show.

The actor was surrounded by friends and family before he passed peacefully, “just as he’d wished for,” the statement said.

Charm and wit

Unlike the odious J.R., Hagman himself was full of charm and wit, as a Grand Forks audience found out in October 2007.

He was in town to kick off a $2 million fundraiser for the museum on behalf of his friends, Laurel Reuter, the museum’s executive director, and New York City artist Barton Benes, who was leaving the entire contents of his Greenwich Village apartment to the museum.

It was Benes who turned Hagman’s gallstones into jewelry; Benes died this past May at 69.

“One thing I like about his stuff, is you look at it and you always have a reaction,” Hagman said at the time. “To me, it’s usually hilarious laughter, because it’s so outrageous.”

Armed with photos and film clips, the actor shared many stories with the audience that night at the museum.

One story was set at a White House dinner, around the time Nancy Reagan was being castigated in the media for buying new and very expensive china. Hagman said he slipped his butter dish into his coat pocket while he was talking to Reagan. She waited about five minutes for him to do the right thing, then gave him a stern warning: “Larry Hagman, you put that right back right now,” he recalled her saying.

The Reagans were good friends with Hagman’s family and Nancy Reagan had been his mother’s protegee.

Co-stars react

Among those with Hagman in his final moments in a Dallas hospital was Linda Gray, his on-screen wife and later ex-wife in “Dallas” the original series and the sequel, said her publicist, Jeffrey Lane.

“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,” the actress said.

On Friday night, actress Victoria Principal, who co-starred in the original series, recalled Hagman as “bigger than life, on-screen and off. He is unforgettable, and irreplaceable, to millions of fans around the world, and in the hearts of each of us, who was lucky enough to know and love him.”

Barbara Eden, who played the titular genie in “I Dream of Jeannie,” recalled late Friday shooting the series’ pilot “in the frigid cold” on a Malibu beach with Hagman, who played an astronaut who found the genie’s lamp.

“From that day, for five more years, Larry was the center of so many fun, wild and sometimes crazy times. And in retrospect, memorable moments that will remain in my heart forever,” Eden said.

Hagman also starred in two short-lived sitcoms, “The Good Life” (NBC, 1971-72) and “Here We Go Again” (ABC, 1973). His film work included well-regarded performances in “The Group,” “Harry and Tonto” and “Primary Colors.”

Ten episodes of the new edition of “Dallas” aired this past summer and proved a hit for TNT. Filming was in progress on the sixth episode of season two, which is set to begin airing Jan. 28, the network said.

There was no immediate comment from Warner or TNT on how the series would deal with Hagman’s loss.

An advocate

Larry Hagman, a native of Fort Worth, Texas, was the son of singer-actress Mary Martin, who starred in such classics as “South Pacific” and “Peter Pan,” and attorney Ben Hagman.

He was married to Swedish designer Maj Axelsson, and the couple had two children, Preston and Heidi.

Hagman was diagnosed in 1992 with cirrhosis of the liver and acknowledged that he had drank heavily for years. In 1995, a malignant tumor was discovered on his liver and he underwent a transplant.

After his transplant, he became an advocate for organ donation and volunteered at a hospital to help frightened patients.

He also was an anti-smoking activist who took part in “Great American Smoke-Out” campaigns.

Funeral plans had not been announced as of Saturday morning.

“I can honestly say that we’ve lost not just a great actor, not just a television icon, but an element of pure Americana,” Eden said in her statement Friday night. “Goodbye, Larry. There was no one like you before and there will never be anyone like you again.”