Linda Gray's Final Deathbed Conversation With Larry Hagman

Larry Hagman and Linda Gray

Larry Hagman played the iconic oil tycoon J.R. Ewing on the original Dallas and its reboot. Linda Gray played his wife, Sue Ellen. "I originally met Larry when we did the first table read for Dallas in 1977, and the last time I saw him was the day before he died on Nov. 23 in Dallas. And from the beginning to the end, he was fun and generous," Gray said.  

His "Dallas" co-star and on-screen wife tells THR she hoped his new car would keep him alive: "You can't die until you drive the Tesla." Also: Barbara Eden remembers her "I Dream of Jeannie" co-star.

This story first appeared in the Dec. 7 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.

I originally met Larry Hagman when we did the first table read for Dallas in 1977, and the last time I saw him was the day before he died on Nov. 23 in Dallas. And from the beginning to the end, he was fun and generous.

When we did that table reading for Dallas, he came with saddlebags over his shoulder, wearing a big Stetson hat. The bags were filled with champagne bottles, which we drank after the reading. I didn't have much of a part in the pilot -- I mostly just sat there and gave meaningful looks -- but I thought, "Working with this guy could be fun."

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And that's the way it turned out. I called him the Pied Piper -- I think he was 5 years old under all that hat. No matter what the situation was, he made it fun. Most people lose that as they get older: We have to be responsible; we have to be adults -- but not Larry. I remember he used to take me out on a scooter on the MGM lot. I'd be in high heels with hair and makeup and he'd be done up as J.R., and we'd be blowing bubbles through this German teddy bear thing he found somewhere. Who else thought to do things like that?

Then last week I was with him with Patrick Duffy [who played J.R.'s youngest brother, Bobby Ewing, on the series] when we went to visit him in the hospital. Larry being in the hospital wasn't expected: He'd invited his entire family -- daughter, son and five granddaughters -- to spend Thanksgiving in Dallas, where we've been filming the new show for TNT. He probably felt weak and didn't want to fly.

When we went into his room, he looked good and was sitting up in bed, but then he said, "I have two weeks to live." And we were like: "Are you kidding? We have scenes on Monday!" Then we talked about how he'd ordered the new Tesla electric car and said, "You can't die until you drive the Tesla." And he perked up and said, "Yeah, I've got the Tesla coming and the scenes with you." It was like that -- two hours of laughing, giggling and hanging out. We left just beaming, thinking: "This is cool. He's being Larry; he's going to be OK."

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The next day, Larry had arranged for everyone in his entire family to take this Airstream bus he'd converted with sheepskins and beads and hippie crap to the Southfork set to have a Thanksgiving picnic. Then they came back to the hospital to see Grandpa, and he got to speak with everyone in the family. And maybe that was enough for him because Friday morning, we got a call to go to the hospital. He'd slipped into a coma.

We were stunned. He'd orchestrated it for everyone to be with him. He'd gotten to speak with everyone in the family individually. Then it was like, "OK, I'm done."

In his life, he was very open about having done LSD, and he'd say: "I'm not afraid of dying. I've gone to the other side, and I know it's wonderful." And maybe that's the way it worked out.

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Larry was one of the most intelligent actors I ever worked with. He more than hit his marks. And when you're working with another actor, you know immediately if the ball isn't tossed back. Plus, Larry was savvy about the business, which I wasn't.

The first week on Jeannie, he asked me if I was keeping track of my hours, and I wasn't. Three years later, he came in with this huge overtime check. I told him I hadn't gotten one. He asked me if I submitted my hours, and I said I didn't know you had to ask.

And when I did, it took lawyers and SAG many months to compute it. Larry just laughed. He knew about the squeaky wheel getting attention in this business.