Alexander Chancellor

Long life | 6 December 2012

I was sad to read that Larry Hagman had died. As J.R. Ewing, the conniving Texas oilman in Dallas, he may have been ‘an overstuffed Iago in a Stetson hat’, but he was curiously lovable in a way that no Iago ever is. This could be because he was rather lovable in real life and this niceness may have seeped through into the evil television character to temper its hatefulness. Unusually for a Hollywood star, he remained happily married to the same woman for 50 years; and even more unusually, he did so despite being at various times a very heavy drinker, smoker and drug-taker. It was an odd combination for a man who claimed his happiness came entirely ‘from being a husband, father and grandfather of five’ to be at the same time one whose declared purpose in life was ‘to be as outrageous as you possibly can’.

This outrageousness involved drinking five bottles of champagne a day while filming Dallas, and doing so (according to him) without ever getting drunk, it being a common boast among Texan men that they can hold any amount of liquor. ‘Nine in the morning to nine at night is 12 long hours,’ he said. ‘You can ingest a lot of alcohol in that time, but it was never too much.’ Other of his eccentricities involved appearing in public in silly costumes, such as going to the shops dressed as a gorilla, and making fans sing him a song or tell him a joke before agreeing to sign his autograph.

But then, like many Americans, he also had a puritanical side yearning to express itself; and he turned abruptly from chain smoker to anti-smoking fanatic, carrying a battery-powered fan with which to blow smoke back into other people’s faces.

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