Hagman at age 70: trim, dry, still kicking


November 18, 2001|By Ed Bark | Ed Bark,Knight Ridder / Tribune

DALLAS -- Legal liquor nearly killed him but illegal LSD "took the fear of death from me." Pot and peyote buttons were therapeutic high points, too. Now he's surviving on a mandatory daily diet of 29 prescription pills. Meet Larry Hagman -- all over again.

The man who made J.R. Ewing the world's Big Tex has a revelatory new autobiography out titled Hello Darlin': Tall (and Absolutely True) Tales About My Life. It duly talks about Dallas and I Dream of Jeannie. Those are the easy parts. A life story is much more than actors and their roles, though. In Hagman's case, lots more.

He had a challenging relationship with his father, attorney Ben Hagman, described as a "two-fisted, drinking, good old Texas boy" in the book. And he loathed his stepfather, Richard Halliday, whom Hagman blames for driving a wedge between him and his famous mother, Mary Martin.

"The anecdotes were not hard to come up with," Hagman says over diet drinks at a Dallas hotel.

Hagman turned 70 on Sept. 21, courtesy of a 1995 liver transplant that saved his life. He's trimmer than in his Dallas days and has permanently shucked the silver fox toupee he wore during the show's 13 seasons. Acting is mostly in his rear-view mirror, he says. Hagman and his wife of 47 years, Maj, instead are attuned to charitable causes. During a two-day stop in Dallas, he appeared at a benefit lunch for Bryan's House, which provides support services for children affected by HIV or AIDS.

None of this stops him from speaking his mind, particularly on the subject of drugs. Hagman's book details his first LSD trip, courtesy of singer David Crosby. As for marijuana, well, Hagman definitely inhaled.

"Why that stuff should be illegal is beyond me. It's so benign compared to alcohol. When you come right down to it, alcohol destroys your body and makes you do violent things. With grass, you sit back and enjoy life. I don't smoke dope anymore. I'm in the 12-step program so I can't do any of that. ... "

Hagman regrets his heavy-drinking days -- "That was the manly thing to do when I was growing up" -- but not his career choices. In his first feature film role, 1964's classic Fail-Safe, he played a Russian interpreter opposite Henry Fonda as the president of the United States. But in 1965, a potentially serious movie career gave way to TV's I Dream of Jeannie.

"I took whatever came along. I was glad to work. I had a family to support," Hagman recalls. "But I've done pretty well."

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