“The Man Larry Hagman & The Legend JR - A Personal Tribute to my “Blood Brother.”
by: Holly Pellham Davis
Two of the most fascinating, eccentric, larger than life people I have ever known, I inherited into my life through marriage. Simply put, they were friends of my husbands. One was Nancy Hamon, the other, Larry Hagman.
Watching the original Dallas on Friday nights when I was a little girl was standard operating procedure at my house. Secretly, JR reminded me of my own daddy, but mostly because they shared the same wild eyebrows.
It didn’t take long after being around Larry Hagman, to forget about the “character” of JR Ewing. Larry Hagman, the man, was much greater than the character of JR.
You might imagine how strange it probably seemed to find myself one day at Larry and Maj’s Santa Monica house trying to locate the key he had left us on one of the tires of his Volkswagen Bug (license plate “RELIVER”). My husband and I were staying at their home one night and then driving to “Heaven” (their home in Ojai) the following day to join them for a weekend party they were hosting. As I write this, I can’t remember what the party was for. Maybe Labor Day, or his birthday. Both are in September. The fact that he so openly and generously gave us his car and S.M. home should be a clue of the man Larry was. In fact, that weekend party in Ojai, the entire town came. Everyone was invited. Doors open, all walks of life greeted with the same enthusiasm, love and hotdog hat on his head. No guest list, no bouncers. Larry took pictures and gave each person time and attention. He valued all.
I was reminded of this at Larry’s private memorial service at Southfork. His daughter, Kristina, told of a story that happened when she, herself was a small child and another little boy around them said that Larry was his daddy. (The child was speaking of one of the TV characters he had played) Kristina sweetly spoke of how angry she was at first, declaring him “hers” and how confused she was. Larry took her aside and explained to her that that little boy didn’t have a daddy and that he associated Larry as his dad because he had a uniform on and came into his home through the television set. He asked Kristina to learn that she had to share him with a whole lot of people... Understandably, being a child, she struggled with this “sharing” at first, but came to understand it and then cherish it. Larry, the man, shared himself with everyone.
Larry loved having a good time and a good laugh and his motto of “don’t worry, be happy, feel good” proved it. His email address, titles, other minutia all had “be happy’ in it somewhere. Much of this mantra was born out of his gratitude for a second chance at life through a liver transplant. Upon waking in recovery he gave away all kinds of things to family and friends, including a lucky Bebe (Maj’s sister) who ended up with his Lexus. He loved giving away his “JR Ewing” cash which he would autograph for people and also included information on how to become an organ donor. Larry loved giving back.
Larry, the man, celebrated life. The best Montrachet I have ever had to date, he ordered for me at Spago in Los Angeles. I have been chasing that bottle of wine down for over a decade now trying to figure out what winery it came from. Leaving the restaurant that night, Larry and I were talking and walking with Stubbs and Maj behind us when Larry says, “oh hell- the paparazzi are out there, they’ll take pictures of us together and it’ll wind up in the National Enquirer, let’s wait up for Stubbs and Maj.” Almost as quickly, he countered with his mischievous grin telling me, “to come on and smile pretty!” He was such a mess!
On his birthday each year and at Christmas, he would call the people that he loved for five minutes (long list) and let them know they mattered to him. Stubbs looked so forward to that call. It is a tradition he adopted from Larry and holds dear.
Larry adored his wife, Maj. She was such a strong women. Loving and warm, but definitely wore the pants! They were truly soul mates in every sense of the word. Family was everything to them.
Larry was very much a Texan. In fact, he based his interpretation of the JR Ewing character on a man he knew in Weatherford, Texas, his hometown. Larry said he was the “meanest son of a bitch around.” Ruthless. Nothing like the real Larry Hagman, who hated back stabbing, dirty dealing businessmen. After my husband lost the company he had sweat and bled for to a “JR Ewing” type, Larry was so angry and there to support and be a friend to him. Larry was still “mad about it” over a decade later.
Without a doubt, Larry’s magic in the JR character, was his ability to make you like JR Ewing, even though he was a ruthless, scoundrel. We all felt for JR because we could see, he just couldn't help himself! This is where I believe the two characters collided. There was a child like, “can’t help himself” quality to Larry that was incredibly endearing and he returned that “grace” to everyone around him. In Larry’s company, you could always find a soft place to land. Larry was mischievous, he knew the game of life and how to play it. He could identify the characters and loved, almost all of them, for the “role” they played. He didn’t take things personally. Like most great actors, Larry gave JR Ewing a secret and I think we saw evidence of that “secret” played out more in his last season of Dallas. JR would always love, who he affectionately called, “his greatest leading lady,” Sue Ellen and always love his brother, Bobby. Life imitated art perhaps the greatest for Larry here. The three of them were so close. A real life brotherhood for Patrick and Larry and brother/sister bond with Linda Gray. He loved them deeply. Larry also wanted his on-screen “son,” Josh Henderson, to carry on the “Ewing legacy” and Larry believed in Josh. I know, nothing would make Larry happier than to see both his onscreen family and real life family “not worry, be happy and feel good.” He would want them to thrive, stay together and carry-on. For Larry Hagman the man, and JR Ewing the character, at the end of the day, it was all about “family.”
In October 2012, with Larry’s health continuing to fail, I became a small part of that family. Living an organic, clean lifestyle has its benefits and “good” blood & platelets is one of them. I proudly gave both to Larry and our blood was a “perfect” match. He seemed to really bounce back and feel better than he had in a long time. I kept my donation a tightly held secret, not even telling my own mother, when I found Larry was proudly proclaiming to strangers and friends alike that, “he was feeling good- he had Holly Davis’ blood in him!” This was so typical Larry. What some of us (me) get so tightly wound up about (like me writing this memorial blog), Larry threw out there, never wasting time or getting bogged down in the possible B.S. of life. (He would have had a great “one liner” to inject right about here.) Larry, from then on, referred to himself as my “blood brother” when we were together. I cherish a note that was attached to the bouquet of (his favorite) yellow roses, he sent me before he passed away, signed, “your blood brother.”
He gave me his self proclaimed “best Larry Hagman smile” in this photo taken weeks before his death.
I saw those same yellow roses again at his Memorial Service. We gathered, fittingly at Southfork, to remember a man that was truly unforgettable.
Larry would have wanted me to tell you to be a blood and organ donor.
He would want us all to “don't worry, be happy and feel good.”
He would love it if we went... “Gong Bong” tonight...... (Each night at sunset, Larry would say “goooooooooong boooooong” as a tribute to each day and being positive and grateful.)
He would be honored by the outpouring of love in #RememberingJR today.
I wanted to leave you with this...
On Larry’s last day of filming Dallas, the camera was still rolling when he looked deeply into the mirror on set and said, “I love you Larry.”
This is the image taken (sent to me by Linda Gray)
Good-bye dear friend.
Thank you for sharing yourself... with all us.
We love you Larry...