There’s a big difference between involvement and commitment, and J.R. Ewing once spelled it out. “Like ham and eggs. The chicken who laid the egg is involved, but the pig the ham came from is committed.”
And now, the eldest Ewing brother has died. I learned this late last night. Upon awaking this morning, unlike for Pam with Bobby, I realized to my dismay that what has just occurred is not a dream.
How fitting that Larry Hagman passed yesterday not only in the city of Dallas, but during a time of reprising his legendary character so many people know and even more of us love. In the final year of his life he had the rare yet celebrated privilege of resurrecting his iconic TV role, that which secured his unmatched place in the world while leaving diehard fans yearning for more of their favorite mischievous-yet-endearing schemer.
In 2012 he was back. Now in the same year he’s left us. This ironic timing seems the most comforting and appropriate way for him to make his long-in-coming exit. Hagman died on Friday, November 23, much to our collective sadness, taking with him of course the one and only J.R. Ewing.
When he lived to see his 80th birthday in September 2011, I was delighted. In fact I breathed a sigh of congratulatory relief, mindful that his serious health challenges over the years rendered this milestone quite a feat. Then when the new “Dallas” finally premiered last summer, seeing Larry Hagman as J.R. Ewing once again after so many years was no less than amazing. Who’d have predicted that a longtime smoker and hard drinker a few breaths from death upon his 1995 liver transplant would live to reprise his infamous role in 2012?
Of course Larry Hagman had aged, almost sadly so. While his tongue continued to lash out those fantastic “J.R.-isms” in this year’s “Dallas” episodes, his body clearly was not keeping pace with his revered wit. Though trying not to admit it, I had a sneaking suspicion he was not long for this world. Like all his fans, I was thankful he had made it this far and managed not just the involvement, but commitment, to give it another go.
And one more round– the now-certain last round– is yet to come. Again, Larry Hagman died in Dallas while bringing J.R. back to season two of the new “Dallas” series. Exactly how prepared for his death the writers and producers of the show were– and just how smoothly and acceptably J.R. will make his final exit— remains to be seen once the series returns in January. Perhaps an appropriate contingency plan was already in place. Maybe J.R.– and Larry– thought ahead to this inevitable moment. After all, while I’m far from the only fan to mourn his death, I certainly can’t be the only one unsurprised.
No doubt he will be missed terribly while remembered wonderfully. Personally, I will always cherish my good fortune of meeting Mr. Hagman professionally in 2003. No other individual figure holds a candle to him, decorated bon vivant that he was, realistically and fictitiously speaking. Likely no one ever will.
More than involved, Hagman remained committed to his work, his role and his unsurpassed persona, leaving us a timeless gift under his mantra, “Vita Celebratio Est.” For this we celebrate one great life. After all, like J.R.’s daddy used to say: “Where there’s a way, there’s a will.” Larry Hagman found and mastered both.