NEW YORK — One reason "Dallas" became a cultural phenomenon like none other is that Larry Hagman never took its magnitude for granted.
During an interview last June, he spoke of returning to Dallas and the real-life Southfork Ranch some months earlier to resume his role of J.R. Ewing for the TNT network's revival of the series. There at Southfork, now a major tourist attraction, he came upon a wall-size family tree diagramming the entanglement of "Dallas" characters.
"I looked at it and said 'I didn't know I was related to HER!'" Hagman marveled. "And I didn't know THAT!"
In its own way, the original "Dallas" — which aired on CBS from 1978 to 1991 — was unfathomably bigger than anything on TV before or since, while J.R. Ewing remains unrivaled not just as a video villain but as a towering mythical figure.
All this is largely thanks to Hagman and his epic portrayal of J.R., a Texas oilman and patriarch who, in Hagman's hands, was in equal measures loathsome and lovable.
Hagman, who died Friday at 81, certainly had nothing more to prove a quarter-century ago when "Dallas" ended after 14 seasons.
But in the series revival, whose first season aired this summer, J.R. was even more evil and deliciously conniving than ever. Though visibly frail, Hagman knew how to leverage J.R.'s vulnerabilities as a new form of strength to wield against his rivals. Hagman knew how to double-down on J.R. as a force the audience could hiss and cheer with equal delight.
Of course, in his long career, Hagman did more than star in "Dallas" and tackled more roles than J.R. Ewing. Had "Dallas" never come along with its operatic sprawl of power, corruption and family feuds, Hagman would likely be remembered for an earlier series, "I Dream of Jeannie," the 1960s sitcom about an astronaut and the genie who loved him.